Writing Styles: The Elements of Style vs AP Stylebook

In the world of journalism, there are sets of standards to provide uniformity in style and formatting of documents, called style guides. In the United States there are more than 15 different style guides, each with its own unique rules. Two of the most widely utilized are the ‘The Elements of Style’ and the ‘Associated Press Stylebook.’

The Elements of Style (1918), aka Strunk & White, by William Strunk, Jr., and E. B. White, is a small and simple guide for writing. The original version was only forty-three pages, but has grown to 105 pages, four editions, and has sold more than 12 million copies. It promotes efficient use of words, with recommendations like “make every word tell”, “vigorous writing is concise” and “omit needless words.” It also suggests to “prefer the standard to the offbeat”, a ‘stick to what works’ approach, ‘if it aint broke, don’t fix it’. The book tells writers to have the proper mind-set, that they write to please themselves, and that they aim for “one moment of felicity.” Criticism of Strunk and White has focused on their misunderstanding of what constitutes the passive voice, and their advocation of popularly established usages, such as the split infinitive and the use of ‘which’ in a restrictive relative clause.

The Associated Press (AP) Stylebook is the gold standard of journalism style guides. From its start in 1953, the publication focused on “where the wire set a specific style” and is referenced for grammar, punctuation and principles and practices of reporting. It is usually updated every year, and is now on its 43rd edition, at 416 pages. It features an alphabetically ordered list of guides to capitalization, abbreviation, spelling, numerals and usage. The stylebook is organized into sections: Business Guidelines, Sports Guidelines and Style, Guide to Punctuation, Briefing on Media Law, Photo Captions and Bibliography.

I find it intriguing that scholars of letters obsess so much on the minutia of journalistic techniques, although I am not a professional writer, so I don’t have the same appreciation as some. In comparing these two style guides, I would say that each has its own particular purpose. The Elements of Style seems more suited for an author of novels, or perhaps someone who just wants some practical, simple writing advice. In contrast, The AP Stylebook is geared towards writers in the businesses of newspapers, magazines, television broadcasting and public relations.

To me (imho), good writing doesn’t need to be 100% grammatically correct, or follow an industry standard. It just needs to come from the heart of a person who wants to create thoughts and ideas that stimulate the senses and imagination of the readers.

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