What is the Best Quarter Abbreviation Format? (Q1, First Quarter, IVQ, 1st qtr)


As we kick off a new year, many of us plan work and strategies across the entirety of the year ahead. 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 2020 or Q1 2020, depending on formality level. (Investopedia uses this format in their publications.) 
  • First Quarter 2020 is a good format for formal documents, such as annual reports, investment reports, or business plans.
  • Q1 2020 is clear in less formal writing, such as emails, project communication, and internal communication.
Mary Cullen

About the author

Mary Cullen

Mary founded Instructional Solutions in 1998, and is an internationally recognized business writing trainer and executive writing coach with two decades of experience helping thousands of individuals and businesses master the strategic skill of business writing. She excels at designing customized business writing training programs to maximize productivity, advance business objectives, and convey complex information. She holds a B.A. in English from the University of Rhode Island, an M.A. in English Literature from Boston College, and a C.A.G.S. in Composition and Rhetoric from the University of New Hampshire.

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