AP Stylebook Updates Rule on Using Percent Sign

The Associated Press Stylebook sometimes makes changes on its guidelines that make copyeditors cringe. One of the latest involves the percent sign.

The guidance from the Associated Press Stylebook has always been to avoid the use of the percent sign.

The guidelines found in the guide dictate how media agencies around the globe write stories.

The actual symbol for percent, %, was supposed to be replaced with the word percent, always spelled out, separated from the numeral by a space, as in 4 percent, 23 percent, 69.3 percent, etc. While AP Style generally specifies that numbers below 10 should be spelled out as words and numbers 10 and above should be written as actual numerals, percentages always involved numerals and the word. And for amounts less than 1 percent, the style dictated a zero precede the decimal, as in 0.8 percent.

The percent sign is now allowed.

Stylebook Editor Paula Froke announced the latest round of changes to the grammar bible for journalists at the annual conference for ACES: The Society for Editing last Friday, Poynter reported. The updated entry in the AP Stylebook will read, in part:

Use the % sign when paired with a numeral, with no space, in most cases (a change in 2019): Average hourly pay rose 3.1% from a year ago; her mortgage rate is 4.75%; about 60% of Americans agreed; he won 56.2% of the vote. Use figures: 1%, 4 percentage points.

When you’re talking a percentage below 1 percent — or 1% — the same zero rule applies. But it’s now 0.8% or 0.32%.

What’s interesting is that in certain cases, the word percent is still preferred. The example from the updated entry suggests figurative uses of percentages:

She said he has a zero percent chance of winning.

For copyeditors and writers who’ve used AP Style for so long that they’ve lost track, the percent sign can be typed by pressing shift-5.

Patrick is a Christian with more than 30 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.