Originally published on Grammar Monkeys on Aug. 13, 2010.
Sometimes in journalism we have to — gasp! — do math, because it’s part of the news. We have to get the numbers right, just as we have to get the facts right and the language right. To those who think a journalism or communications degree means you can forget about math, think again: Math is a key part of many news stories, corporate memos, nonprofit reports, etc. And it needs to be done correctly.
So, in the spirit of the upcoming election season and its steady stream of polls, a note on the difference between “percent” and “percentage point.” This is also relevant when talking about tax rates, test scores, and so on.
Percent is a fraction of something. Percentage points are how percents are measured.
They are not the same thing, so if you are comparing two percents or rates, be careful how they are expressed. Here are a few examples: