Proper Abbreviation of “Quarter” in Business Communication

The word “quarter” is heard often in the busintess world where a year breaks down into four sections (quarters). Strategies across the entirety of the year are broken into quarters – first, second, third and fourth. A common question we receive from our readers is regarding the proper abbreviation to express quarter and year (i.e. Q2 2019), as there are many options – Q2, Second Quarter, IIQ, 2nd qtr, etc.). 

Here is a recent comment from a reader regarding this topic:

“Is there format of expresing quarter and year that is generally accepted as correct?”

Well, if we turn to the main business style guides — AP Stylebook and The Gregg Reference — we will be dissapointed to find that the proper way of expressing financial quarters is not addressed at all. The two guides address compound adjective use (… for the second-quarter sales) and assert the abbreviation “qtr” to be the accepted format, though it really isn’t that common in busines reports. 

What do the Guides Say? 

The last time this issue was discussed in Microsoft’s number format guide, the recommendation was that for technical and scientific papers one should use Roman Numerals and commas (IIQ, 2020 or IV 2020). However, this format is actually somewhat old-fashioned and today’s typical business reader will not understand that. Let’s not forget that the underlying intent of business writing is clarity and facility of understanding. Your reader needs to absorb information easily and correctly. The use of Roman Numerals to express quarters risks being confusing to someone who is scanning multiple documents per day.  

Much Confusion

As is often the case with format questions (and abbreviations!), there are a number of differing opinions and recommendations, and unfortunately no definitive guides to dole out a final ruling on the matter. We are therefore at the mercy of common sense and credible sources who format this regularly. Below are our recommendation for how best to express annual quarters: 

The Verdict

The two recommended options are Q1 2021 or First Quarter 2021 (depending what level of formality the situation calls for). Here is an example of a press release from the Dutch-domiciled multinational automotive manufacturing corporation STELLANTIS. You can see their use of BOTH formats on the first page of their quarterly results press release:

 

example of proper quarter abbreviation from a press release from the company STELLANTIS: First Quarter 2021 and Q1 2021

Generally speaking, the spelled-out version (First Quarter 2021 is a better fit for formal documents (i.e. investment reports, business plans, etc), while the abbreviated Q1 2021 is better suited for shorter, less formal communications such as emails and internal communications.  

So in the end, while a few opinions exist, you can’t go wrong with these two options.

Examples:

Below are a few more examples:  

Sanofi:

Example of Proper Abbreviate of "Quarter"

Total Energies:

example of proper abbreviation of "Quarter" in a business press release

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