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Ten Things You Didn't Know About Writing Numbers
2013, Q4 (January 03, 2014)
By Emily Cox, Feature Writer

Writing with numbers and figures is an overlooked skill despite the fact that we often include them in our communications. Below are ten tips to remember when writing with numbers; some might surprise you!

Occasionally, different formats and styles of writing will suggest different rules, so, as always, it’s best to double-check your style guide first. Happy writing!

  1. Single-digit numbers are usually spelled out. When referring to a number of 10 or greater, it is acceptable to use numerals. For example: "I asked for five bullet points" and “I asked for 10 bullet points” are both correct. However, consistency trumps this rule. If you refer to a single- and a double-digit number in the same sentence, either spell both numbers out or use numerals for both numbers. For example: "I asked for five bullet points, but she gave me twelve," is correct, and so is "I asked for 5 bullet points, but she gave me 12." Pick one and stick with it.

  2. Use those commas! Now is not the time to shy away. The comma helps break up small groups of digits, so just make sure to use it appropriately. Writing "31,708,600" rather than "31708600" helps define the number and makes it much easier to decipher quickly.

  3. When numbers are next to each other, write one using numerals and the next spelled out (or vice versa). "We used seventeen 12-inch pieces of string" is written correctly.

  4. When using numbers to identify a real or virtual place, use numerals. “Highway 147,” “Station 105.1,” and “Conference Room 3” are all correct.

  5. Never begin a sentence with a numeral. There's something about the appearance of "12 databases were used" that just seems odd. "Twelve databases were used” or “The team used 12 databases" is much better.

  6. When you are writing about a percentage less than one, make sure to include a zero before the decimal. For example, "0.05 percent" is correct; ".3 percent" is not.

  7. Use those hyphens! Every number between twenty-one and ninety-nine should be hyphenated if you decide that they should be spelled out (see Tip #1). "Seven hundred thirty-one" is written correctly. All numbers that are also compound adjectives, such as "one-and-a-half" should be hyphenated as well.

  8. Use tables, graphs, and charts whenever possible. In order to get ideas and points across, visual examples can help to communicate these ideas to a variety of audiences. These visuals can be used to demonstrate comparisons between two different interventions, or a trend.

  9. When spelling out fractions, just write the fraction as if you were saying it out loud. Continue to use Tips #1, 4, and 6. “Two-thirds of the guests understood the material” is correct. “½ of the apples were gone” is not.

  10. Dates can be confusing. Sometimes, a specific date is written out differently than the way it is said. For example, “December 11” is correct even though it is pronounced “December eleventh.” When you are simply listing the ordinal form of a number, it should be spelled out. “On January 25, 2013, he finished reading the twenty-fifth book in the series” is written correctly.

Emily Cox can be reached at Ecarcox at gmail dot com. End of article.

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