Co Writing Percentages In Essays

Q. I am editing some reports for my college. I had some good times in the ’60s, was educated in the ’70s, worked in the ’80s and ’90s, but the ’00s confuse me. What do we call them?

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A. It is lucky that the ’20s, ’30s, ’40s, . . . , ’90s are so easy to talk about; it is unfortunate that the, um, zeros? ’00s? aren’t. In writing, “the ’00s” perhaps looks okay, but it reads horribly (the zeros? the aughts?); so, what does one say? I seem to recall that people writing about the first decade of the last century would say things like “in the first decade” or “at the dawn of the century” or “at the turn of the century” or something like that, phrases which lack economy and sometimes precision. Fewer writers speak of the “teens,” an expression that Chicago doesn’t favor. In any case, one can always use numerals: 2000–2009 or 2010–2019. That said, I wonder if and when something better will be dreamed up and successfully adopted.

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Q. I’m muddling through a budget document, and I cannot remember (i.e., figure out) whether dollar amounts are singular or plural. When written out at the beginning of a sentence, it seems to me that the plural works better, since the subject of the sentence seems clearly to consist of more than one item (Seven thousand dollars are needed for . . .). When presented as $7,000, though, the amount appears to be a singular subject.

Ordinarily, I would dodge the whole issue by using the active rather than the passive voice, but local custom is to place the number first in the sentence (I think that’s so our readers won’t have to waste time reading the document to see how we came up with such outrageous budget requests).

I’ve just moved, and I haven’t yet located my CMOS (I should have marked that box in neon orange); can you help?

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A. It’s best to use the singular. For an example, see CMOS 9.21.

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Q. If numbers must be written out by using words, are commas added in the same places as they would be used for digits? Example: 23,504,070; twenty-three million, five hundred four thousand, seventy. Thanks!

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A. No commas should be used when numbers are written out:

103,000 = one hundred three thousand

The longer the number, the more awkward it may seem, but commas would make the number look like a series of smaller numbers, something that doesn’t happen with numerals because there are no spaces, for one thing.

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Q. Dear style gurus, the rule is to always use the numeral with “percent,” as in “1 percent, 100 percent, etc.” Our question concerns “zero percent.” I say it should be spelled out, because your numeral rule applies to “numbers ONE through one hundred.” My co-worker says, nope, you’ve got to use 0. Who’s right? What’s the rule?

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A. Our rule is that all percentages and decimal fractions are set in numerals, in humanistic as well as scientific copy. The only exception is for the beginning of a sentence:

Zero percent of American-born participants in a recent poll could remember where they were—not to mention what they were doing—when Theodore Roosevelt was charging up San Juan Hill.

The ideal income tax, some people say, would be 0 percent of net income.

The sixteenth edition of CMOS makes this clear: Chicago’s general rule is to spell out zero through one hundred. See paragraph 9.2.

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Q. In prose, when writing percentages, which is correct: 10 percent; ten percent, or 10%?

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A. Chicago prefers the use of numerals for all numbers used as part of percentages, but use the word “percent” for humanistic copy and the “%” symbol for scientific and statistical copy:


10 percent (but spell out “10” if it begins the sentence)

scientific, statistical:


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Q. In the admittedly rare circumstances when you want to write out the name of a large number, are there any agreed-upon guidelines for the usage of the word “and”? Is it “six hundred seventy-two” or “six hundred and seventy-two”? I was taught the former in grade school; a colleague was taught the latter, equally adamantly. I should note that said colleague is Canadian; is this perhaps a question of American versus British usage? All consulted manuals are, inexplicably, silent on the matter.

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A. See paragraph 9.5 in the sixteenth edition of The Chicago Manual of Style. Some writers prefer using and, but Chicago’s preference is to omit it.

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Q. A quandary: I’m seeing September 11th (added “th”) in the New Yorker magazine, where editing is usually superb, but somewhat antiquated. The New York Times refers to the date as Sept. 11 or 9/11. Please give me a rundown of your recommendations for this particular date, including use as an adjective (September 11 tragedy?). Or is it still too soon to have a set standard? Thanks. I’m probably the 911th person to ask you this.

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A. In written text, Chicago’s rule is to write a cardinal rather than an ordinal, even though the number may be pronounced as an ordinal:

the events of September 11

the September 11 tragedy

September 11, 2001

When a day alone is mentioned, it is usually in the form of an ordinal but spelled out:

September 10, 2001, was the last day of its kind in the United States. The tenth will therefore always be important, even as it stands in the shadow cast by the eleventh.

As for an abbreviated form for September 11, “9/11” works fine (but see CMOS 16, paragraph 9.36).

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Q. You’ve stumped me. I teach a copyediting class at Emerson College, where I’ve assigned CMOS for years as a required text. This term, I gave my class a quiz on using numbers in which one of the questions was a simple True or False about spelling whole numbers one through ninety-nine. Some students got it wrong because, they insisted, their book specified numbers through one hundred. Sure enough, several students have one version of 8.3 and the rest another. Since everyone is using the fourteenth edition, we are very curious—not to say confounded. What’s up with that quirky 8.3? Are there any other differences I should know about? I’d appreciate any insights you can offer, especially since I have already ordered the book for next semester. Thanks!

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A. Ah, yes, the infamous 8.3 of the fourteenth edition of CMOS. Earlier printings of the fourteenth edition applied sound logic. Look at the two-part rule: (1) the numbers one through ninety-nine are spelled out, and (2) the numbers one through ninety-nine followed by “hundred,” “thousand,” “hundred thousand,” “million,” and so on are also spelled out. It would be redundant to write in the first part that one through one hundred should be spelled out, because one hundred is covered by the second half of the rule (from which one can extrapolate that “one” followed by “hundred” should be spelled out).

Logical as this may have been, the wording confused many of us. So we changed the first part of the rule to make it clearer: spell out the numbers one through one hundred. The rule now confuses (almost) no one, even though it is a bit redundant.

In the fifteenth edition, we retained the clarity of later printings of the fourteenth. For the sixteenth, we’ve clarified that zero is also spelled out (see CMOS 16, paragraph 9.2).

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Q. When talking about “the turn of the century” (from 1899 to 1900), should it be “the turn of the nineteenth century” or “the turn of the twentieth century”? It seems that since the years 1800 to 1899 have been referred to as the nineteenth century, then the turn from 1899 to 1900 should be referred to as “the turn of the nineteenth century.” Please advise.

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A. There is no general agreement about what a phrase like “turn of the nineteenth century” means. It does seem to suggest the “turn of the nineteenth century into the twentieth”—i.e., the change from 1900 to 1901 (or, popularly, 1899 to 1900). But it’s probably best to stick to the more general phrase “turn of the century” and to limit it to a context that makes the century in question clear—for example, in a discussion surrounding the immediate legacy of Theodore Roosevelt’s charge up San Juan Hill.

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Q. Our company has always presented costs to clients in both written and numerical form. For example, “The cost for our services is two thousand one hundred fifty dollars ($2,150).” One client has pointed out that the number in parentheses is negative and therefore we owe him money. How can we present numbers to clients in both written and numerical form without using the parentheses, which may indicate a negative number?

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A. Parentheses are occasionally used instead of the minus sign in tabular matter (e.g., spreadsheets) to indicate negative quantities. In most contexts, however, parentheses set off text that explains or qualifies or amplifies the surrounding context—as in your example and often in contracts and other legal documents. Parentheses used in this way have no bearing on any quantities they enclose—monetary or otherwise. Continue presenting your costs as you always have.

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The Mechanics of Scholarly Writing

Writing credible, well-designed papers for college or publication requires the use of scholarly writing mechanics. The writer must integrate ideas from sources, cite and reference properly, paraphrase, and use minimal quotes. Source material must also be accurately represented (University of Phoenix, 2011). Critical thinking skills are also necessary for scholarly writing.

"Critical thinking is the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to beliefs and action" (Foundation for Critical Thinking, 2011, para. 3). Critical thinking entails the ability and practice of perceiving a problem objectively and intellectually. The academic or professional critically analyzes the issue and ponders possible conclusions and/or solutions which or she effectively communicates (Foundation for Critical Thinking, 2011).

This practice can be intimidating initially, but the practitioner soon realizes the benefits and can become quite proficient, using the skill for collegial, professional, and everyday decisions. Once the writer has mastered critical thinking, he or she can concentrate on the mechanics of scholarly writing.

The Mechanics

An important factor in scholarly writing is the proper integration of ideas from utilized sources. The writer must use direct quotes sparingly. The paper should contain no more than 20 percent of direct quotations.

Peer-reviewed sources may be the most reliable, and can be found in university libraries and online databases.

Paraphrased material should be carefully constructed. The writer must read the text thoroughly and understand it well. The precise meaning of the author must be represented in the paraphrased information.

The referenced material should have been published within the last 3-5 years. Citations must be precise, as should references. Consult the citation and reference style manual (APA, MLA, etc.) used by your organization for exact specifications.

Formatting issues include the title page, spacing, margins, headings, citations, and references (University of Phoenix, 2011). Each area must be precisely calculated.


The Critical Thinking Community. "Defining Critical Thinking"


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