Wednesday, January 16, 2008

AP Style - percent

AP has made a major overhaul of its style for the word "percent." The long tradition of repeating the word after every figure has been dropped and replaced.

The printed 2007 stylebook dropped the guidance on repeating "percent," but it did not provide a substitute for that part of the entry. It has now done so online, and the hyphenated form, without repeating "percent," is the new standard. Here is the entry (with new material highlighted):

Percent: One word. It takes a singular verb when standing alone or when a singular word follows an of construction: The teacher said 60 percent was a failing grade. He said 50 percent of the membership was there.
It takes a plural verb when a plural word follows an of construction: He said 50 percent of the members were there.
Use figures for percent and percentages: 1 percent, 2.5 percent (use decimals, not fractions), 10 percent, 4 percentage points.
For a range, 12 to 15 percent, or between 12 and 15 percent. [Updated April 22, 2008, to reflect AP's use, now, of the "to."]
For amounts less than 1 percent, precede the decimal with a zero: The cost of living rose 0.6 percent.
However, as noted in an "ask the editor" entry, be careful with this style because you can imply ranges that are not there. The example used was market share jumping from 16 percent to 25 percent, not 16-25 percent.

AP also has decided to drop the "to" in ranges and use the hyphen instead: 20-30 people. [As of April 2008, there is no indication that has changed, based on several "Ask the Editor" entries.] However, "million" and "billion" are still repeated to prevent confusion: $12 million to $14 million, not $12-14 million or $12 to $14 million. (I could easily see the hyphenated form coming to be accepted, however, given AP's new guidance on ranges.)

(Note that if you are updating your percentage entry in the current printed stylebook, you also need to update the "punctuation and usage examples" under "numerals." This change apparently dates internally to early 2007, but the new language in the stylebook specifying the hyphen "to" is rather recent and online only. I've never seen a formal announcement.)

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At 1/17/08, 3:48 PM, Blogger Brian B said...

Thanks, Doug. I'll alert my reporting students.

At 4/22/08, 5:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

AP online currently reads "12 to 15 percent," not "12-15," as is posted above.

At 4/22/08, 5:40 PM, Blogger Doug Fisher said...

Good. AP has changed it. I was going to issue the "to" as house style, but this saves me the trouble.

At 6/8/09, 8:50 AM, Blogger toni said...

What about using "%" versus the word "percent"?

At 6/8/09, 8:07 PM, Blogger Doug Fisher said...

AP does not use "%" -- mostly because the old teletypes couldn't transmit it.

As a result, "percent" spelled out has become pretty much standard in newspapers (and many magazines), though the % is used in tables and similar material.

I suspect with the drive to save space, we'll see more use of "%." And now that things are digital, with few restrictions on what characters can be transitted, maybe AP will go that way, too.

At 10/26/11, 11:45 AM, Anonymous byliner said...

Our publication stylebook chooses % in text and in headlines. As a copy editor, I notice that some writers and editors don't know the difference between percent and percentage points.

At 3/29/13, 1:53 PM, Blogger Byliner said...

We're still uing the % for percent in the text of our four publications, probably to save space.

One wording problem I encounter in local and wire copy is "between X to Y ..." — but various writers and editors have problems with math: "three times more" vs. "three times as much (many)."

At 5/29/13, 2:52 PM, Anonymous Rachael said...

Thanks for this. The example of 20-30 people makes sense, but what about an example in which one number is below 10? For example, five-10 people. That looks so strange, but I can't find a rule that would say otherwise. Do you know if a range that mixes a number below 10 with a number 10 or above should still follow the same rules? I just think 5-10 people looks much better.

At 5/30/13, 12:09 AM, Blogger Doug Fisher said...

The preferred form is five to 10 people.

The stylebook does not give full guidance on this, but unlike some academic styles that shift to all numerals in ranges, AP used the mixed form that conforms to its broader guide on spelling out one to nine in most cases (see my more recent entries on this blog about how AP needs to rethink its confusing number style).

This May 2012 "Ask the Editor" entry helps:

Q. Do you need "from" when you use the word "range" in the following sentence? "Estimates range 5-10 years." Or is this better: "Estimates range from 5 to 10 years"? from Chicago, Illinois on May 23, 2012
A. Estimates range from five to 10 years.


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