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Using a currency amount such as $1,000 in writing that has an international audience may be confusing (as may £1,000). This amount might represent US, Canadian, Australian or some other currency. I have taken to using the ISO currency codes, such as, USD 1,000, AUD 500, GBP 1,200 to avoid any confusion. Is this a good practice or are there alternative approaches?

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In formal writing, this is very much a good practice. If the text has to be more informal, you could just state the country/currency explicitly ("It cost 50 Aussie dollars"). I suppose whatever give enough information, and also fits the style of writing. – Alexander Rafferty Feb 9 '11 at 7:35
GBP is interesting, as it has been the currency of the United Kingdom since 1826 (so why not UKP?) but is issued by the Bank of England, and the banknotes are only legal tender in England and Wales. – Henry Feb 9 '11 at 8:03
@Henry, Scottish and Northern Irish banks also issue banknotes denominated in pounds sterling and interchangeable with English banknotes. I believe the term "legal tender" is actually rather esoteric and doesn't affect the rights of shops or other businesses to refuse or accept whatever banknotes they wish (for normal transactions at least) – RedGrittyBrick Feb 9 '11 at 10:26
Although there are a number of Scottish shop owners that make a big show of looking very suspiciously at the Bank of England notes some tourist hands to them. :-) – Christopher Creutzig Feb 9 '11 at 13:38
There are a number of shops especially in London and Cardiff that even accept Euro... – Dan Hanly Feb 9 '11 at 17:24
up vote 8 down vote accepted

I work for an investment firm, and we generally use ISO currency codes to represent currency.

You could have the following problems if you use currency symbols instead of ISO codes:

  • There may be inconsistency in your document because not all currencies have specific symbols.
  • Some symbols may not be easily recognizable, and you may not have a well-known source to reference them to.
  • You cannot be sure that all your users will have the software to render the currency symbol you use.

That said, if the context is clear and you do not need to represent different currencies, it may be easier on the reader if you use the currency symbol of their country.

I would be interested in reading the other responses you get to this question. We use the Chicago Manual of Style, and as far as I know, it does not give a definitive answer either.

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It's good to see your industry is using the ISO codes. I am not sure how much they are used outside of banking and investment circles so they may be unknown to some audiences if not common. Perhaps the answer is to define uncommon codes on first use: "...one million Chinese yuan (CNY 1M)..."? – Alex Trueman Feb 9 '11 at 7:58
@Alex: I agree. Like all abbreviations, it is a good idea to define the code on first use when writing for people outside the industry. – Tragicomic Feb 9 '11 at 8:16
When I worked in a large multinational consumer-goods manufacturing business, we used ISO 3-alpha currency codes in the IT systems at least. – RedGrittyBrick Feb 9 '11 at 10:28
CMOS uses, in sections 8.23 ff., symbols for currencies that have them. In 8.30, they suggest prefixing symbols where needed, as in “U.S.$1.23” (dots, no spaces). – Christopher Creutzig Feb 9 '11 at 13:44
@Christopher Creutzig: Interesting... Which edition of CMOS do you use? I have the 15th edition. I believe in the 16th edition, in CMOS 9.22, it recommends using "the International Organization for Standardization’s three-letter currency codes (e.g., USD for United States dollars, CAD for Canadian dollars...)" – Tragicomic Feb 10 '11 at 8:40

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