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Why your copy editor must know the difference between AP Style and Chicago Style?

Your editor needs to know the different between AP Style and Chicago Manual of Style

There’s the punctuation and formatting your English teacher taught you. Then there’s AP Style and Chicago Style. What’s the difference, and why does it matter? History provides the first peek at the answer.

History of AP Style and Chicago Style

The roots of these styles go back a few years. The Chicago Manual of Style was first published in 1906 by the University of Chicago Press. The original edition contained 203 pages of rules for how to format and style text, especially citations. It was pivotal in standardizing American English punctuation rules within academic materials.

AP Style arose out of the newspaper industry’s need for consistency. Associated Press was the lead wire service that newspapers depended upon, and the service wanted its reporters to use consistent spellings and punctuation styles. It has gone on to become the primary style used by broadcasters, magazines and PR firms. Everything from capitalization rules, abbreviations, spellings, and number formats is covered in detail. It is an essential resource for providing copy editing services on material connected with media.

Differences between AP Style and Chicago Style

One of the most obvious differences between the two styles is the use of the lowly comma. In AP style, you drop the last comma in a series. “The glass has orange, yellow and green swirls in it.” With Chicago Style, you keep it. “The glass has orange, yellow, and green swirls in it.” You want a copy editor who knows which one is the correct style for your material. If your work is for a magazine, newspaper or press release, your copy editor needs to adhere to AP style. If your work is a scholarly piece, you need copy editing services based on Chicago style.

A less obvious difference is choice of dictionary. AP style is ruled by the first spelling listed in Webster’s New World College Dictionary. Chicago style is ruled by Merriam-Webster’s first spelling. This means that you would spell “health care” as two words to please AP and spell it as one word to please Chicago. AP says it’s “coworker” and Chicago says it’s “co-worker.”

The major differences between the two styles come down to economics and purpose. For a newspaper or magazine, the elimination of extra characters was a strategy to cut printing costs—less typesetting time and possibly even less ink required. While these aren’t cost concerns in today’s electronic environment, the style is firmly entrenched within information media formats.

Chicago style is more focused on rules that create consistency in complex publications—books that contain bullets and numbered lists for example. Familiarity with this style and how to use this resource makes is more likely that the person providing editing services will be able to meet your needs.

Similarities between AP Style and Chicago Style

The two styles actually overlap significantly. Familiarity with AP in popular media has created a zone where AP and Chicago styles merge. For example, if you are preparing a book manuscript for popular consumption, the style choice should be linked to your target audience. So a copy editor might use AP style consistently for one aspect of style, such as place names and punctuation, yet use Chicago rules for quoting sources. The ultimate need is consistency.

Importance of style familiarity

Your copy editor needs to know the differences between AP style and Chicago style because familiarity with both systems ensures copy editing on your project will be accurate. A copy editor’s job is to ensure that no matter where your written material is published things like spelling errors, grammar slips, capitalization mistakes and punctuation blunders don’t make you look unprofessional. Having a handle on these two styles provides a solid foundation for meeting job requirements.