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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