writing techniques

AP Style Blogging: What That Even Means

ap style bloggingAssociated Press style, or AP Style, are the grammatical rules followed by journalists and many print media outlets in the United States. In my opinion, it's one aspect of print media and the news industry that ought to creep more into business blogging and digital media, although it hasn't crept as quickly as I would have hoped. It's understandable, as only in the last few years have journalists made the leap from traditional media to brand marketing and brand journalism. However, any content creator out to follow the rules of AP style blogging for the sake of consistency, accuracy, and clarity. Here's are some AP rules that apply to online content creation:


Upon first reference, mention the full name and title of the person. Each additional reference should use the last name only. Here's an example from an industry magazine:

John Daws, Owner of Daws Engineering, agreed that nitrogen tire inflation has its benefits for trucking fleets, but specified that this benefit can only be retained if the trucking fleets owns its own tire casings.

“The benefits accrue over time,” Daws said. “The first year the casing is mounted is when there’s the biggest oxygen intrusion.”

It should be noted the use of the title in the first sentence is incorrect. AP style dictates the titles, when following the name of the person, are lower case. Therefore, it should read, "John Daws, owner of Daws Engineering."


Spell out abbreviations and acronyms on first reference. Use the abbreviation or acronym on each additional reference. There are a few acronyms that can be used on first reference, such as AAA, AARP, and NASA. But, other than that, spell it out on first reference to avoid confusion.

Also note that abbreviations and acronyms do not contain the periods in between each letter. It's return on investment, then ROI, not R.O.I.


When using a month with a day, abbreviate the month. Exceptions are March, April, May, June, and July, which are always written out and never abbreviated. When the month stands alone, or is used with a year, spell out the entire month. Example:

Jan. 31, 1988

January 1988


In general, always spell out numbers zero through nine, and use numerals for numbers 10 and up. These rules will differ under certain circumstances, such as percentages, temperatures, statistics etc. (Since these rules can be tricky, we'll do a blog post just on the AP style of numbers within the next week).

Really large numbers are typically spelled out i.e. one million, one billion. It is also acceptable to use both the numeral and the spelling for clarity's sake i.e eighty-two thousand (82,000).

Note that with the exception of a year, when starting a sentence with a number, that number needs to be spelled out. Example:

2008 was a horrible year for investors.

Thirty-three students showed up to class today.


To indicate time, use the numerals and specify morning or evening. Example:

9 a.m. (nine in the morning is also acceptable, albeit wordy)

6 p.m. (what's not acceptable is 6 p.m. in the evening, as that is redundant. Pick one or the other).

If referencing either 12 p.m. or 12 a.m., it's better to use noon or midnight to avoid confusion. Also note that it's a.m. and p.m., not AM/PM or am/pm.

Understand that this isn't an exhaustive list of AP style blogging rules. We have more rules in the related links, and we will cover more of them in the future.

One last note about AP style blogging: there are very few rules that are optional or up for debate. It's not a matter of preference whether or not you want periods in between the letters in an acronym or in a.m. or p.m. It's not an option to use the percent symbol, unless it's in a headline.

Related Links:

Homonyms and Frequently Misunderstood Words for Content Creators

Additionally Commonly Troublesome Words for Content Creators

An Introduction to Trademarks

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How to Make Your Blog Article Titles More Search Engine Friendly

blog article titlesA mistake that I see a lot in business blogging is that the blog titles are not specific enough. When blog titles are too vague, not only do they not full tell the reader what the blog post is about, but the vague blog title makes it harder for your post to rank on search engines. Blog titles are just as important to the SEO mix as the content itself, the meta descriptions, tags, hyperlinking, photos etc. The titles are the first thing readers see (and may be the only thing they read) before deciding whether to read the post, so it needs to count.

The way to make your blog titles more search engine friendly is to make them more specific. More specific means that it ranks for a long-tailed keyword related to your industry instead of a generic keyword that's not necessarily related. To start, let's illustrate a blog title that's vague and not very search engine friendly:

Keeping a Business Calendar

It may seem specific and straightforward, but it's really not. What about keeping a business calendar? Is the post about how to keep one? Why we should keep one? What kind of business calendar? Weekly, monthly, yearly, insurance, finance, appointment? The questions can go on for a while. Utilizing these questions, here's how this title can be made more specific and more search engine friendly (each change is underlined):

  • Keeping a Weekly Business Calendar
  • Keeping a Weekly Business Insurance Calendar
  • How to Keep a Weekly Business Insurance Calendar
  • How to Keep a Weekly Business Insurance Calendar in 5 Steps
  • How to Keep a Weekly Business Insurance Calendar in 5 Simple Steps
Look at how specific the title is now! We did that by adding adjectives and other words to describe we are talking about. Not only are we clear on what exactly this blog post is about, but a reader would also know right away whether or not this is a blog post to read. If the reader needs help keeping an insurance business calendar, this might be a good one!
Also look at how many keywords this post could rank for now! In the original title, there were only two keywords: "keeping a business calendar" and "business calendar". However, this new one could rank for:
  • insurance business calendar
  • weekly insurance business calendar
  • how to keep a keep a weekly insurance business calendar
  • keeping a weekly insurance business calendar
  • keeping an insurance business calendar
Those may be very specific keywords that don't get a lot of traffic. BUT, the traffic that the blog post does get from those keywords will be high quality because that traffic will be finding exactly what they are looking for. That's the kind of traffic you want, since you'll be able to convert them into leads much more easily. It's also more search engine friendly, since this post is now able to rank for more keywords, and more specific keywords that don't have a lot of competition.
To make your blog article titles more search engine friendly, you need to get specific. A specific blog article title may be harder to come up with than a vague, so what you can do is start with the vague title and add in adjectives and other words where possible to make it more specific, just like we did in the example.
If you want more tips to improve your blog article titles, then check out our ultimate checklist to great blog article headlines. To download it, click the button below:


How Copyscape is Fraudulent on Plagiarism and Content Fraud (Part 1 of 3)

copyscape plagiarismCopyscape is a popular plagiarism detection service that many folks use to see if their content is being stolen, as well as to see if prepared content has been plagiarized from other sources. Many are happy with Copyscape and the service it provides, presuming that it does a good job of catching plagiarism and content fraud. However, I hate the darn thing, and more professional writers ought to share in my enmity. Copyscape does not do as good a job as people think it's doing. My rage is due to the fact that a few days ago I was falsely accused of plagiarism by a potential client, because of the Copyscape results he received for my article. In our conversation, he never specified what it had flagged; just said that "chunks" of it were copied. Since I didn't know what it caught, I had no idea how defend myself. I guessed that Copyscape caught the survey statistics I mentioned, and offered that as the explanation, but he didn't like that. He said this whole thing was unprofessional and didn't want to take the risk working with me. Obviously, I did not get the gig, and I did not appreciate the quick and harsh accusation.

Worried of the potential damage this could have to my career and credibility, I ran the article through Copyscape myself to see what it flagged. It flagged TWO sentences, out of this 400-word article. To boot, these two sentences were meant to be a technical definition, something that you'd want to have verbatim to ensure accuracy. He also didn't see that I had included several hyperlinks throughout the article, including a hyperlink to the web page I got these two sentences since technical difficulties forced me to send him a text only version, instead of the actual document that included the hyperlinks (in my experience, one can't hyperlink in chat boxes). If he was able to see the hyperlinks, he would have seen that I had hyperlinked this definition to the web page I got it from. I explained the technical difficulty to the client twice, but it didn't seem to matter. All that mattered was that some words matched some other words somewhere else online, coming to the conclusion that the whole article was copied and that I'm not to be trusted.

Copyscape had also listed 20 results of copied content, except it was 20 different sites that had these same two sentences, so really it was one result instead of 20. Copyscape also didn't catch the survey statistics, which I actually did pull verbatim from the website. I don't think the client really perused these results, cause he would have seen that the results were a false positive.

And I am not the only one. A writer based in El Paso, Texas, who asked to remain anonymous, shared her story with me. Anonymous wrote a piece on gambling addiction, and the editor sent it back to her saying there was plagiarism. The results from Copyspace revealed a few phrases and a hotline from a web page as the plagiarism. Her editor now wants her to rework the piece or write something entirely different. She could rework the piece, but Anonymous fears that the editor won't trust that the rest of her work is original.

I've proceeded to run a few more of my articles (ones that are published and live on the web) through the system, with mixed results. It caught some in their entirety. Others, it only caught sentences and statistics, and not the whole article. There was one article where it didn't catch anything at all, leading me to believe that Copyscape isn't as reliable as people are hoping and thinking it is.

According to Wikipedia, plagiarism is "the mere copying of text, but also the presentation of another's ideas as one's own, regardless of the specific words or constructs used to express that idea". Meaning, in order for text to be considered plagiarized, it needs to be a copy or close copy of the text AND lack attribution to the original author or source. Yes, I copied that definition verbatim from the Wikipedia, but it's not plagiarism as I attributed the definition, placed the definition in quotes, and provided a hyperlink to the very web page I pulled the definition from. And, lovely lovely Copyscape flagged this paragraph as plagiarism, despite my extra efforts.

Attribution for online content is different from print content like an academic paper. It's not as if endnotes or footnotes really look great on a blog or web page. I think that proper online attribution means a hyperlink and/or a statement of the source, with quotation marks if the words are exact words. Since hyperlinks help in Google rankings, I don't think anyone would challenge 

In contrast, many so-called plagiarism detection services, LIKE COPYSCAPE, can only detect blatant word-for-word copies of text. A mere word-for-word copy is NOT plagiarism, I repeat, it is NOT plagiarism. It only counts if it is not properly attributed. There are many times when a word-for-word copy would be perfectly appropriate, like a definition, a direct quote, or a set of statistics.

Here, then, is a brief list from the Purdue Online Writing Lab of what needs to be credited or documented:

  • Words or ideas presented in a magazine, book, newspaper, song, TV program, movie, Web page, computer program, letter, advertisement, or any other medium
  • Information you gain through interviewing or conversing with another person, face to face, over the phone, or in writing
  • When you copy the exact words or a unique phrase (which means that a word-for-word copy is okay, as long as it is attributed)
  • When you reprint any diagrams, illustrations, charts, pictures, or other visual materials
  • When you reuse or repost any electronically-available media, including images, audio, video, or other media

There are, of course, certain things that do not need documentation or credit, which is important to note because services like Copyscape just look at the text, but don't look at how the text is used, what the text says, or if the text comes with the proper attributions, Things that don't need documentation or credit, also taken from the Purdue Online Writing Lab's page on plagiarism, include:

  • Writing your own lived experiences, your own observations and insights, your own thoughts, and your own conclusions about a subject
  • When you are writing up your own results obtained through lab or field experiments
  • When you use your own artwork, digital photographs, video, audio, etc.
  • When you are using "common knowledge," things like folklore, common sense observations, myths, urban legends, and historical events (but not historical documents)
  • When you are using generally-accepted facts, e.g., pollution is bad for the environment, including facts that are accepted within particular discourse communities, e.g., in the field of composition studies, "writing is a process" is a generally-accepted fact.

I suspect that Anonymous and I aren't the only ones who've been wrongly accused of such an unethical deed. This one incident wouldn't be a big deal, except that as a professional writer, an accusation of plagiarism could have widespread and career-damaging consequences, whether the accusation is true or not. After all, a man cleared from death row after 20 years in prison doesn't suddenly have the ordeal over and done with. That sort of thing remains with you long after the whole thing, just like an "act" of plagiarism.

Writers who've been dealt injustice because of faulty Copyscape results need to come forward with their stories, to show that you are not alone and that this is problem. Those wanting our content need to understand what plagiarism really is, and realize that Copyscape shouldn't be taken as foolproof and  absolute.

In Part II, I will complete a full statistical analysis of Copyscape, running all of my online articles through the system and summarizing the results. I have hundreds of articles live on the web, so the results should be valid. In Part III, I will offer alternatives to catching plagiarism and content fraud.