In report writing it is good style to use ‘approximation’ in the Findings, Conclusions and Recommendations. Approximation means describing numbers or statistics by using a fraction that is similar to the exact number; e.g. using ‘about one-third’ instead of 34.76%, or an easy-to-remember number such as ‘just under one million’ instead of ‘997,652’.

There are a number of reasons for doing this. Firstly, it is easier for people to understand and remember. Secondly, the numbers or statistics may be more detailed than necessary.

1) about, roughly, approximately, around

2) under, less than, below, almost

3) over, more than, above

4) nearly, close to, approaching

5) precisely, exactly

Here are some examples:

a) 65% – about two-thirds of

b) 28% – just over a quarter of

c) 21% – about a fifth

d) 49% – just under a half of

e) 74% – almost three-quarters of

f) 33.3333% – a third of

g) 92% – most of

h) 98.5% – almost all

i) 1,043 – over a thousand

j) 115 – over a hundred

k) 9 – fewer than ten

l) 2 – a small number

m) 4 – a few

n) 6 – several

o) 749,982 – about three-quarters of a million

q) 1,256,890,534  – over 1.2 billion

r) 100,005 – about one hundred thousand

s) 60.04% – roughly sixty per cent

t) 40.5°C – approximately 40 degrees Celsius

u) £502.02 – around five hundred pounds


1) Don’t use fractions where the denominator (the number under the line) is greater than 5 – many people do not know that 1/6 = 16% or that  7/8 = 87.5% .

2) Don’t forget the hyphen in fractions; e.g. ‘onethird’ (but not after ‘a’; e.g. use ‘a third’).

3) Don’t forget to add an ‘s’ on the end of fractions starting with two or greater; e.g. ‘two-thirds‘, ‘three-quarters‘.

4) Most fractions can be followed by the preposition ‘of ‘; e.g. ‘Three-quarters of the staff were satisfied with working conditions.’

5) Most fractions are followed by a plural noun; e.g. ‘half of the books‘, except uncountable nouns; e.g. ‘Half of the staff were satisfied with working conditions’ (the verb is ‘were’, not ‘was’, because ‘staff ‘ is thought of as a plural after fractions).

6) In strictly correct grammar use ‘fewer than’ for countable nouns and ‘less than’ for uncountable nouns.

7) It is more natural to use ‘a’ instead of ‘one’ in front of fractions; e.g. ‘a third of …’

8) In front of ‘half ‘ you do not need to use ‘a’ or ‘one-‘; e.g. ‘Half of the staff were satisfied with their working relationships.’

9) Do not use a number at the start of a sentence, because it’s bad style. Use words; e.g. ‘100 One hundred of the staff were satisfied with working conditions.’

10) Be careful of the spelling of ‘several’ – it’s not ‘several’.

11) Remember that ‘only’ and ‘just’ often have a negative meanings, so use them only if you want to show that something is bad; e.g. ‘Only 1% of our staff were satisfied with working conditions.’

Match the phrase to the correct number:

a) 19.98%       b) 101,997c) 26%

d) 33.3333%

e) 248,112

f) 1,695,193

g) 48.873%

h) 97

i) 7

j) 74.25%

1) just under a hundred2) nearly three-quarters3) about 1.7 million

4) a quarter of a million

5) about a fifth of

6) a third of

7) several

8) almost a half of

9) just over a quarter of

10) about 100,000


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