One thing I see a lot of online, especially in news sources, is the spelling out of percent when indicating a percentage. Here are a few examples:

  • “In New Zealand, the number of Americans who applied for a grant of citizenship rose by 70 percent in the 12 weeks . . .” (Lethbridge Herald, 14 March 2017)
  • “Medicine Hat finished the evening with a 33.3 field goal percentage, nearly 10 percent higher than SAIT . . .” (Medicine Hat News, 20 February 2017)
  • “Citizen Society Research Lab shows 50.6 per cent of those surveyed are in favour . . .” (Lethbridge News Now, 24 February 2017)
  • “Kennedy says 72 percent of people in treatment centres . . .” (CTV News, 13 March 2017)
  • “Shell sold 50 percent of its 60 percent stake in . . .” (The Georgia Straight, 14 March 2017)

I could literally go on for days with similar examples. The thing is, though, they’re wrong.

Okay. Not quite wrong. AP Style says that percent is always spelled out. This guideline has permeated newspapers and journalist schools throughout Canada and the United States, which is why it persists.

And I’m not going to question whether that’s good for print newspapers. It is, however, bad for online copy.

See, writing for the web comes down to conciseness. It’s why, when writing for the web, that we use short sentences and paragraphs, writes all numbers as numerals, and make copy scannable with headings and lists.

Web users are picky and impatient. They know what they want and if they don’t find it quickly, they’ll move onto somewhere else. Things like percent instead of % just make web readers work harder to consumer your content. Sure, it’s easier for you to just copy and paste from your newspaper to your website, but it’s lazy.

Using % instead of percent makes it easier for your readers to consumer your content faster, but because it helps your figures stand out, it helps them find the content faster, too.

So, next time you“re tempted to wrote “50 percent”, don’t. Use “50%” instead.

About Kim Siever

I am a copywriter and copyeditor. I blog on writing tips mostly, but I sometimes throw in my thoughts about running a small business. Follow me on Twitter at @hotpepper.

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