Joe Cress

Photo Illustration by Joseph Cress

Point/Counterpoint: Reactions to AP Stylebook change of ‘percent’ to ‘%’

In March, the AP Stylebook changed a rule which instructed journalists to use “percent” to using the “%” symbol. Two DI staffers debate the highly contentious punctuation switch.

April 9, 2019

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AP style changes, even if we don’t like it, and that’s OK


I have been a devotee of Associated Press style since I was 13 years old and enrolled in Jeff Grant’s seventh-grade newspaper class. I learned how to conduct interviews, write a proper article, and edit my work vigorously. To achieve that third standard, I had to learn all the rules for punctuation. One of those rules was to never  — under any circumstances — use “%.”

The percent sign has been anathema to my writing. I don’t use it in my articles, school projects, or even texts. It doesn’t even really occur to me to use anything except “percent.”

So why am I the one defending the change? Because it’s AP style; God has spoken and she’s changed her mind.

The only real reason I’ve cultivated disdain for “%” is because AP style has said it’s bad. It’s the same reason I don’t use numerals for one through nine — because AP style says so.

I could cynically just write off a reversal on the percent rule as AP editors wanting to get a little attention from their peers, but it’s more than that. Shifts in how journalists write the news have changed throughout media history, and they will continue.

Another rule change announced in March prohibits the use of “racially charged” and similar phrases as euphemisms for “racist.” As journalists, direct and precise language is crucial to delivering the news to its audience.

And if that means ditching an old quirk of the rules, so be it.

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It’s a no from me


The Associated Press updated its stylebook, and chaos immediately ensued in the journalism world on social media. Journalists expressed their outrage at the beginning of April with a change in the traditional AP style usage of “percent” to “%” when paired with a numeral. The Shift+5 requirement plagues me now as I write this column, forever changing the way statistics, reports, and numerals will be referred to in breaking news and journalistic writing in general.

The only time “percent” can be used now is in casual instances, such as, “She said he has a zero percent chance of winning,” according to the AP Stylebook. The journalism Gods have spoken, and they have hurt me with this aspect of the revised stylebook.

Thanks, AP style, I hate it.

No longer is $ the only symbol AP style permitted for use in reporting. Now, the % joins that rank and the long history of spelling things out is slowly being chipped away at as we enter a new decade of information technology, data, and numbers that require ugly change. A revolution has begun, and without it, usage of the Oxford comma is still forbidden while numeral-symbol usage is given the green light.

For the past 173 years, journalists have followed the guidelines and rules AP sets, including the accustomed and habitual usage of “percent” as a spelled-out entity when paired with a numeral. In 2019, AP style is changing the laws of writing as we know it.

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