Precise writing is hard to come by some days. We editors do our part to promote precision, diagnosing and treating maladies like adverb-itis and waffle syndrome. (See also: Make a compelling statement! Plant a stake in the ground! Say something without hedging!) But sometimes, a writer can’t be exact and needs to do a little approximating, like in this example:

Among those who qualify, about 20 to 40 percent advance to the second round.

Writers have many tools for approximation. Using a word like about or approximately is one common technique; quoting a range of figures (as in “x to y percent”) is another. But using both, as the writer has done here — especially with an already wide range of percentages — feels downright vague. When I read something like this, the writer’s credibility takes a small hit, leaving me to wonder, “Really? You couldn’t narrow it down further?”

Thankfully, the options for correcting such a problem are numerous. Here are a few ideas, depending on the data the writer has access to:

Among those who qualify, 20 to 40 percent advance to the second round.

Among those who qualify, between 20 and 40 percent advance to the second round.

Among those who qualify, about 35 percent advance to the second round.

Among those who qualify, about one third advance to the second round.

I’ll get back to writing with precision in future posts. In the meantime, keep an eye out for writing that approximates, and make sure your own examples are as tight as they can be.

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