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Calculate Percentages Easily

In the UK, 91.6 per cent of the population has access to the internet*. Percentages. We love ‘em… but not everyone loves working them out. So let’s make things a little easier with three ways to calculate percentages online…

1. Ask Google
Just type, for example, 18% of 42,825 (or 18 percent) into Google Search. Read more on Google Search Operators, and Advanced Maths Operators

Google search percentage

Google search percentage

2. Cheat

Google Search is fine if the question is ‘what is X% of Y’. But what if the question is ‘X is what % of Y’ or ‘What is the percentage increase/decrease between X and Y’?

Add the free Percentage Calculator site as a bookmark to your Chrome Bookmarks Bar and you’ll never be stuck again (unless you are offline, that is)

Percentage calculator

Percentage calculator

  1. Use Google Spreadsheets

Go to Google Drive, make sure you are signed in and click the blue New button at the top left. Select Google Sheets and give your new spreadsheet a name by clicking its title. This spreadsheet is private (unless you share it) and you’ll find it in your Drive (click My Drive in the left column to return to your home page).

There’s no save button on Google Sheets – your document will be saved automatically every few seconds. If you have a set of numbers on a spreadsheet file (.xls or .csv) you wish to use as the basis for your calculations, these can be uploaded and converted to the Google Sheets format. This guide explains how to do it

To calculate what one number is as a percentage of another, we’ll use a ‘formula’. Formulas perform functions such as addition, division and multiplication (or multiples of calculations), and begin with ‘=’

Remember that the basic calculation for calculating one number as a percentage of another is: ‘Part’ divided by ‘Whole’ x 100.
In spreadsheets the symbol for division is / and multiplication is * so the structure of our formula will be: =Part/Whole*100

Let’s put it to the test. What percentage is 25 of 1,000? To calculate this using the  Google Sheets method enter 1000 and 25 in adjacent cells. (You can change 1000 to 1,000 by clicking the ‘123’ number format button and selecting Number).

In a third cell type the formula symbol = then click first on 25 (the part) followed by the division symbol /, then click 1,000 (the whole). Finally add *100 to your formula. Make sure there are no spaces.

Your formula looks like this …

Hit Enter to see the resulting percentage: 2.5

So, to calculate the internet penetration of the UK, with numbers from the Internet World Stats website, we need two numbers: The population of UK (64,767,115 – the ‘whole’) and internet users (59,333,154 – the ‘part’). Remember … Part divided by Whole x 100.

Here’s the formula entered in a Google Sheet:

Click enter to see the resulting percentage: 91.6

You may need to change the number of decimal places to make the answer more meaningful, by tapping the increase/decrease decimal place buttons in the toolbar (look for .0 with a left arrow and .00 with a right arrow)

Another question: If a local council spent £590 on paperclips in 2007 and £4,740 in 2017, by what percentage has the amount spent on paperclips changed over ten years?

To find the answer we need to remember a new formula for finding the percentage change between two numbers: New – Old, divided by the Old, x 100. Remember, new before old. The formula structure will look like this: =(New-Old)/Old*100

Notice the brackets around the (New-Old) part of the formula. They are important and tell our spreadsheet to calculate the subtraction before the division. Here’s our formula in a spreadsheet:

 

Click enter to find that the cost of paperclips has increased by over 700% over ten years.

A great strength of spreadsheets is that formulas like the above can be applied to whole columns of data simply by clicking and dragging the small blue handle on the corner of the formula cell. Google also makes it easy to share, visualise and embed spreadsheet data into web pages by tapping the blue Share button to the top right of the spreadsheet.

Developing sound spreadsheet skills is essential for all journalists – and there’s no shortage of good, free tutorials online, such as this Google Sheets kickstarter and this step-by-step tutorial from GCF Learn Free

This Resource page was written by Dan Mason, a journalist, media consultant and trainer, specialising in digital communications and social media. Dan trains all over the world and delivers the NUJ’s social media training in Wales.

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