Your Guide to AP Style Percent Formatting

AP Style Percent Formatting

You’ve got solid statistics to round out your article but aren’t sure how to format them. Should you use the percent sign (%) or spell out percent in full? Percentages can be pesky, but if you follow AP Style percent formatting, it’s easy to incorporate these statistics into your writing.

Read on for an easy-to-understand guide to using the percent symbol when citing figures. We also highlight some of the common mistakes writers make when using percentages in articles and blog posts.

Following AP Style Percent Formatting

In 2019, AP Style revised its guidelines for writing out percentages. Prior to this, the rule was to spell the word percent in full after a numeral (for example, 92 percent or 1.5 percent).

It’s now preferable to use the percent sign — in most situations. While the change caused some debate among writers and editors, the new rule follows common usage.

Here’s what the current AP Style percent guidelines mean for you as a writer.

1. Use the % Sign Most of the Time

When referring to a specific figure, place the % sign immediately following the numeral. You don’t need a space between the number and the symbol.

  • Students must have a 75% average to pass the course.
  • The motion passed with 56% of the vote.

2. Use the Word Percent in Casual Situations

When writing figuratively or casually, use the word percent instead of the symbol. Spell out the numeral.

  • There’s a zero percent chance of that happening!

3. Use Decimal Points Instead of Fractions

AP Style recommends using decimal points if percentages aren’t whole numbers. Fractions are more difficult to read.

  • The interest rate on the loan is 2.75%.
  • She received a 3.5% pay raise.

4. Precede the Decimal With a Zero for Amounts Less Than 1%

Place a zero to the left of the decimal point if citing an amount less than 1%. The zero makes the decimal point more visible and helps improve clarity.

  • The interest rate on loans is 0.4% lower at my bank, so you may want to switch.
  • Grocery prices rose by 0.9% this month.

Common Mistakes When Writing Percentages

Still perplexed by percentages? Here’s a rundown of other questions that can crop up when you’re creating content.

What’s the Difference Between Percent and Percentages?

The word percent (or the % symbol) follows a number. It means per hundred and is used with specific figures.

  • There’s a 10% discount if you pay in cash.

The word percentage is more general and used when an exact number isn’t provided.

  • Only a small percentage of the class completed the bonus assignment; more than 90% opted out.

Make sure you don’t use the word percent in place of percentage.

  • Incorrect: What percent of the population voted in the election?
  • Correct: What percentage of the population voted in the election?

How Do You Write a Range or Series of Percentages?

When you’re referring to more than one percentage, use the percent sign after each figure.

The AP Style Guide considers all of the following formats acceptable for describing a range of percentages:

  • 15% to 20%
  • 15%-20%
  • Between 15% and 20%

You can also list a series of percentages. Remember to use the percent symbol after each number.

  • The store is offering discounts of 25%, 30% and 50%.

Are Percentages Singular or Plural?

Writers sometimes stumble when it comes to percentages and verb agreement. The key is to look at the noun to which the percentage is referring. If the noun is singular, use a singular verb. If the noun is plural, use a plural verb.

  • Singular: Only 20% of the membership is at the meeting.
  • Plural: Only 20% of the members are at the meeting.

How Do You Compare Percentages?

You often see writers referring to percentage point increases or decreases. Be careful not to confuse percentage points with percentage change, as they aren’t the same thing.

Let’s say a political party’s approval rate increases from 40% to 50%. It’s correct to say that this is an increase of 10 percentage points. It’s not a 10% increase in approval rating, however. Now, you’re referring to percentage change, and it’s a 25% increase.

  • Percentage points are calculated by subtracting the final value from the initial value.
  • Percentage change is a ratio. It’s calculated by subtracting the final value from the initial value and dividing the difference by the initial value.

How Do You Write Percentage Points?

When writing about percentage points, use numerals.

  • The party’s approval rating is up 4 percentage points.

Is It Percent or Per Cent?

Another common question is whether to write percent as one word or two. Both ways are correct; it’s a stylistic choice. Generally, percent is used in American English while per cent is used in British and Canadian English.

Choosing the Right Style Guide

This article covers AP Style percent formatting, but there are variations between style guides. Some clients may opt for the Chicago Manual of StyleAPA Style or MLA Style. As a professional freelance writer, you should follow your client’s preference so your copy is consistent with other content they publish.

Work With Crowd Content

Are you ready to flex your writing skills and work on interesting and challenging freelance assignments? Whether you’re an experienced freelancer or starting out your career, there’s a place for you on our platform. We have thousands of clients seeking writers for blog posts, articles, product descriptions and SEO copy. Sign up for your Crowd Content account today.


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Erin is the Community Manager at Crowd Content, and before that was a project manager here for 3 years. She lives in Massachusetts, is a baseball/Red Sox fanatic and loves spending time with her family.

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