As we kick off the first quarter of 2019, many of us are planning work and strategies across the year. Business typically breaks years down by quarters as we plan that work. A client from one of our courses recently asked a good question:
I'd like your opinion on formatting. What is the correct/formal way to express quarter and year i.e. Q1 2018?
The main business style guides — AP Stylebook and The Gregg Reference Manual — don't even address how to express financial quarters. Both address compound adjective use (...for the first-quarter sales) and also state that the accepted abbreviation is qtr., which isn't commonly used in business reports now.
When this was last addressed in Microsoft's number format guide, it was recommended for technical and scientific papers that commas and Roman Numerals be used (IQ, 2019 or IVQ, 2019), but that is antiquated and a typical business reader won't understand that. Remember, the goal of business writing is to enable a business reader easily absorb information. Using Roman Numerals to express quarters, even for a highly technical publication, is confusing to a reader.
Like many format questions, there are conflicting recommendations and no definitive guide addresses this. Therefore, we need to use common sense and look at credible sources who format this frequently.
Here is my recommendation on how to best express annual quarters:
- Use either First Quarter 2019 or Q1 2019, depending on formality level. (Investopedia uses this format in their publications.)
- First Quarter 2019 is a good format for formal documents, such as annual reports, investment reports, or business plans.
- Q1 2019 is clear in less formal writing, such as emails, project communication, and internal communication.