Even if I had the time, resources and desire to dedicate myself to the game wholeheartedly starting tomorrow, I could never become competent at golf between now and the day I die.
I do, however, have a fighting chance of mastering Associated Press Style, the writing standards created and maintained by the Associated Press. This is a good thing, because correct usage of AP Style is a requirement at my freelance position. There’s a much higher chance of me remembering to hyphenate the word sell-off than there is of me letting my left shoulder turn under my chin while keeping my left arm straight and my hands passive until my club reaches hip height, just the first stage of an effective takeaway in golf.
Why Try To Compare Golf and #APStyle?
I finally decided to pay attention to Quora after approximately two years of getting emails saying “[name of someone] is following you on Quora!” The site has come up several times on Spin Sucks, a blog I read faithfully (and contribute to occasionally).
I kept hesitating to engage on Quora. I have so many social media balls up in the air as it is. Eventually, I decided I either needed to figure out what it was all about or somehow stop the daily emails about being followed there.
If you know me, you can imagine what happened next.
In response to the recent question “What do you love when you read a personal blog?,” I said it’s important to have a personal connection to the topics you blog about and an enthusiasm for them. I said, ” I could write (maybe competently) about golf, for example (with some research) but it’s not a passion of mine so it would just be facts.” (Read the whole answer here.)
In the Spin Sucks Slack group (it’s awesome and free – check it out!), Mike Connell, who had picked up on the Quora thread, said something like “coming up soon, Paula’s blog post about golf.” I am not sure how that ended up merging with my desire to blog about #APStyle, but I rarely shy away from a blogging challenge, so here we are.
Comparing Golf with #APStyle
You may think golf and #APStyle have nothing in common, but I don’t think that’s true.
Both require precision
Golf holes have been 4.25 inches in diameter since 1891. Just ask the professional golfer whose putt lands a millimeter away from the hole and loses a lucrative payout if precision is important.
Similarly, precision matters for a writer or editor adhering to AP Style. I suppose things are a little different these days because pieces that have been published digitally can be revised real-time, as opposed to publishing on paper only, which immortalizes errors forever. But sticking with AP Style keeps publications consistent and hopefully makes it easier for readers to read. Assuming the publication using AP Style wants to generate revenue from paid subscriptions or advertising, it is important that readers make it a habit to come back, as The Lenfest Institute discovered in its analysis of The Seattle Times’ newsletter. Consistency hopefully helps reinforce the habit.
Despite the precision, both have arbitrary aspects
I know golf has a rulebook (for the purposes of this blog, we’ll go with USGA rules). Even as a golf bystander who has never played a single hole and attended only one major tour event, I know (because my husband is a golfer) that even the most black and white rules can be subject to interpretation. Graeme McDowell, for example, won less money in a 2012 championship when he voluntarily took a two-stroke penalty and ended up finishing in 3rd place rather than 2nd because he “didn’t give the branch enough respect” while addressing his ball in a bunker.
With AP Style, even though there is an official style book (online and hard copy), some decisions are flexible. Individual publications may decide to stray a bit. For abbreviations and acronyms, as an example, the AP Stylebook encourages “avoiding ‘alphabet soup'” and thinking about the context before deciding to use an abbreviation or acronym.
You can’t learn golf in a pinch
As I said at the beginning of this piece, even if I dropped all my other obligations and took golf lessons frequently, had an open-ended membership to a golf club, was gifted with the best equipment, and cared enough to try, I couldn’t become an excellent golfer with the time that’s left in my life (hopefully we’re talking decades here). Golf involves mechanics, muscle memory, discipline, an understanding of the game, endurance, and the ability to strategize. Some of those things (especially muscle memory and good fundamental mechanics) are much easier to develop for a young person.
AP Style, on the other hand, is something even a woman over 50 can grasp. It would certainly have been easier for me to apply AP Style to my current gig if I had accumulated experience using it as a journalist, but it’s not impossible. (The AP Style quizzes are helpful; they are quick to complete and help you become aware of your deficits (and strengths!).
The scenery is different
I have to hand it to golf on the scenery. The gorgeous courses, the ability to commune with nature, the fresh air.
Following AP Style, on the other hand, is somewhat limited to me at my desk typing away. I suppose I don’t run the risk of getting hit in the head with a golf ball or having to fish a ball out of the water, so there’s that!
Visiting the #APStyle Golf Course
I have been thinking a lot about golf hole names since learning that Sergio Garcia named his daughter (Azalea) after a hole at the Augusta National course.
In that spirit, here is a “course” I designed based on the things I’ve learned about AP Style since starting to use it in January 2017, some big and some little. (I do think, though, that an AP Style course would be more along the lines of miniature golf than regular golf — AP Style writers are always trying for a hole in one — we don’t have the luxury of taking several strokes to get to the destination.) I made it a nine-hole. Feel free to create your own nine to fill out 18.
One: Fla. First (State Abbreviations)
AP Style dictates abbreviations for states. Florida, for example, is Fla. In addition, 30 cities can be identified independently, without identifying their state alongside. Writing Explained says, “The norms that influenced the selection [of the 30 cities] were the population of the city, the population of its metropolitan region, the frequency of the city’s appearance in the news, the uniqueness of its name, and experience that has shown the name to be almost synonymous with the state of nation where it is located.” I still don’t get why Milwaukee is there but Orlando isn’t (nothing against Milwaukee), but no one asked me.
Two: Numerically Speaking
With AP Style, the numbers smaller than 10 are spelled out, unless they are ages or percentages.
Three: Article-free Islamic State
This may seem like a weird one to focus on after big things like states and numbers, but I got it wrong recently and am still annoyed with myself. The Islamic militant organization is “Islamic State” rather than “the Islamic State” and it is abbreviated “IS.”
Four: The Walmart Wonder
This is a fairly recent change. For AP Style purposes, the brand ditched its hyphen and changed to “Walmart” this year.
Five: fall for autumn
Seasons are lowercase unless the name of the season is part of a formal event (Summer Olympics, for example).
Six: Dazzling gold rush
I don’t foresee needing this term, but for what it’s worth, “gold rush” is lower case. I suppose a golfer who wins a tournament may encounter his or her own gold rush, right?
Seven: Fly High, Frequent Flyer
Someone who flies often is a frequent flyer, not a frequent flier. AP says “flyer” also applies to handbills distributed to advertise an event, but I have read other opinions on this.
Eight: An Apostrophe’s Place
The AP Stylebook dedicates almost two pages to apostrophes, so I can’t summarize those two pages easily. One important point: It would be easy to trip up on the rule that possessives of proper names ending in S get only an apostrophe (Dickens’ books, for example).
Nine: The Oxford Comma Memorial
This has been the hardest habit for me to break. I was an Oxford Comma fan. My rationale was “I love punctuation, so more is better.” I have to admit, though, that having eliminated the Oxford Comma as required by AP Style, I am getting used to the cleaner look of an Oxford Comma-free sentence. This is probably how all slippery slopes begin….
The Nineteenth Hole
Many golf courses have a Nineteenth Hole facility, a place where golfers can relax after a tough day on the links.
I’m not sure what the equivalent of the Nineteenth Hole is for someone required to use AP Style. Rebelling by spelling out Mississippi? Throwing in a serial comma? Typing “walkin” closet instead of “walk-in”? For me it means keeping the informal to places like Facebook comments and Twitter.
Ultimately, I remind myself that I am using words professionally (and therefore required to use AP Style if that is the requirement of the employer) to accomplish what words do best: build a bridge between people through information and building community.
Creating links, if you will.
**NOTE: If you are an AP Style pro and I got something wrong, please let me know. I’m still learning.