I’ve had my copy of the AP Stylebook for more than eight or nine years and it sits on a shelf over my desk. I’m working with the 2007 edition and I search its pages more than a few times a week. When I have a pressing style question and my copy isn’t within reach, I’ll go online and I usually find the guidance I need. The combination of resources works well, and it’s easier than memorizing all the rules. Especially when the rules change.
One rule – or guideline – that has stayed with me throughout my career is the use of “more than” vs. “over.” In my early working days, my manager explained the difference: “More than” is used with numbers; “over” is used with physical space.
It was a simple explanation and aligned with the AP Stylebook guidelines. In my 2007 copy, “more than” is described as the preferred choice with numerals, while “over” is described as generally referring to spatial relationships.
In 2014, the AP made a change and the updated guidelines to allow for the use of “over” when referring to numbers or quantity. That opened the doors so that it is acceptable to say that I’ve had my copy of the AP Stylebook for over 10 years. While I prefer to hold true to the pre-2014 guideline and use of “more than”, I didn’t cringe when I typed “over 10 years.”
Rules and guidelines change, and we adapt as best we can. That also means adapting guidelines for different audiences. During my time working in corporate employee communications, our internal usage guidelines didn’t always match up with the AP Stylebook. For example, we always capitalized an employee’s job title, even if the job title didn’t precede the employee’s name – as is the preferred AP style, at least in the 2007 edition. We used bold text for the employee’s name to make it stand out. We used internal acronyms on first reference. There were so many acronyms that we created a list of their definitions to help new employees learn our language.
The readers of our intranet and newsletters didn’t seem to mind – or maybe they didn’t notice or care – that our style was a hybrid that fit our needs. We didn’t always follow the AP Stylebook (or any other external style guide), but we when we landed on our own preferred style, we remained consistent.
Whatever style you follow as you write or edit, be consistent and don’t be afraid to adapt. I’m staying consistent and using “more than” with numbers. And if you choose to use “over” with numbers, or you decide to use the Oxford comma, that’s just fine, too.
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By Will Memmott
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