How to Use the Percent Sign in APA Formatting

While writing may be your forte, figures can leave you flummoxed. A few simple rules will help in discerning how to use the percent sign when using the APA style of formatting. It may be the number 5 button on a QWERTY keyboard, but the percent sign can cause a whole host of problems for those who know that grammar counts for a good percentage of their grade.

Which is it, Percentage or Percent?

First things first. They may seem interchangeable, but a percent isn't always a percentage in the APA formatting style. A percent sign should be used with a number, as in, “More than 25 percent of high school students choose math over reading as a favorite first-year subject.” Percentage is typically put in place when no number is needed, such as in, “A high percentage of new students tend to join high school social clubs.” To put it all together, the percentage of high school freshman who eat lunch in the cafeteria is less than 25. Or, 25 percent of high school students eat lunch in the cafeteria. The percentage and percent conundrum comes up often in sports essays and articles. Joe Blow had the highest percentage of shots made in last night’s basketball game, shooting 71 percent of the team’s total points. In financial situations, you'll more than likely use percentage because you're typically subtracting one percentage from another to conclude a difference in growth or reduction.

When to Use the Sign

When the worlds of grammar and mathematics come together, they can present problems for writers and readers. The word percent can look confusing on some documents, which makes the symbol so much more preferred. The APA style guide notes that the percent sign should always be used with numbers. An example would be, “Free apps on newly purchased phones are preferable for 25% of Android users.” There should also be no space between the number and the percent sign.

When to Spell it Out

The APA style has an exception to its percent sign rule. A number shouldn't be used nor a percent sign seen at the beginning of a sentence. This can halt the reader and cause confusion. An example would be: “Twenty-five percent of mobile phone users enjoy free apps.” Read as "25% of mobile phone users enjoy free apps," it's a jarring sentence. The percent sign also offers clarification when used in a sentence that includes percentage, such as, “The computer created correct answers 85% of the time, which was a higher percentage of correct answers than the observers had originally expected.”