March 29, 2019

Brace yourselves.

The AP Stylebook says the percentage sign is now acceptable when paired with a numeral in most cases.

On Friday, 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. This year’s changes are yet another shift toward more common usage.

Here’s part of the updated entry:

percent, percentage, percentage points 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.

For amounts less than 1%, precede the decimal with a zero: The cost of living rose 0.6%

In casual uses, use words rather than figures and numbers: She said he has a zero percent chance of winning.

That change will take effect next week. Past changes like this one include:

2017: Singular “they” became acceptable as a non-gendered pronoun

2014: Over and more than became interchangeable and we have to spell out state names

The 2019 AP Stylebook has more than 200 new and modified entries, according to the AP. Other changes include guidelines on the terms race and racism and more, which you can read about here.

A few other changes:

  • Accent marks can now be used with people’s names when they request it, are known to use them or if quoting from a language that uses them (also taking effect next week)
  • Avoid the word casualties “which is vague and can refer to either injuries or deaths. Instead, be specific about what is meant. If authorities use the term, press for specifics. If specifics aren’t available, say so: Officer Riya Kumar said the crash resulted in casualties, but she did not know whether those were injuries or deaths.”
  • Don’t use cocktail “in reference to a mixture of drugs. Instead: drug combination or simply drugs or medications: HIV drugs.”
  • Don’t use the word suspect “to mean a person of unknown identity who definitely committed a crime. In other words, don’t substitute suspect for robber, killer, rapist, etc., in describing an event, even if authorities phrase it that way. Correct: Police said the robber stole 14 diamond rings; the thief ran away. Incorrect: Police said the suspect stole 14 diamond rings; the suspect ran away. Conversely, don’t substitute robber, killer, rapist, etc., when suspect is indeed the correct word. Correct: Police arrested the suspect the next day. Incorrect: Police arrested the robber the next day.”

If you need a little balm from the changes, check out these old stylebooks, which you can now explore online. Back in 1911, diseases were in the “don’t cover” category, “unless decidedly epidemic.”

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Kristen Hare teaches local journalists the critical skills they need to serve and cover their communities as Poynter's local news faculty member. Before joining faculty…
Kristen Hare

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  • My high school newspaper adviser, Mrs. Salzer, blew a gasket every time she saw “percent.” In her seventies then, she insisted on “per cent,” which was AP style in her day. She tried her best to teach me to write. Red ink flowed like blood.