How do you express numbers in writing?
- Spell out small numbers. When used in sentences, text, documents or other content, spell out numbers smaller than ten. Use digits for number 10 and over.
- Other opinions. Experts don’t always agree on the rules. Some say that any one-word number should be spelled out; and two-word numbers should be expressed in digits. For example, write out five, twelve or twenty, but not 24 or 37.
- Don’t start a sentence with a numeral. Like Lincoln, make it “Four Score and seven years ago,” not “4 score and 7 years ago.” That means you might have to rewrite some sentences: Instead of “400 copies were sold,” rewrite to read: “Fans bought 400 copies.”
- ‘Three,’ ‘3’ or ‘III’? When do you use each of these symbols? Use digits (2, 3, 4, etc.) or Roman numerals (II, III, IV, etc.) when numbers stand alone, as in numbered items like rules, outlines, charts, figures, tables, ads, signs, and other places where the number is not part of a sentence, paragraph or other form of text.
- Percentage or %? In formal writing, spell out the word percentage, rather than using the symbol %. Example: “12 percent” (or “twelve percent) not “12%”).
- If a number is rounded or estimated, spell it out. For rounded numbers over a million, write the numeral followed by the word: “About 400 million people speak Spanish natively,” instead of “About 400,000,000 people speak Spanish natively.”
- Exact numbers. If you use an exact number (6,211 or 528), write it out in digits. “He collected 974 sports cards.” For estimates: He collected close to a thousand cards. For numbers in the millions, use digits as in $3,635,000 or $3.635 million.
- Two numbers next to each other. It can be confusing if you write “7 13-year-olds.” Spell out the number with fewest letters. as a numeral, like “seven 13-year-olds.”
- Ordinal numbers. When you use first, second, third, etc., avoid writing: “He was my 1st true love,” or “My birthday is July 5th.” Instead write: “He was my first true love,” and “My birthday is July 5.”
- Consistency. Pick a style and stick with it. Be consistent within the same sentence and throughout a whole document. If a teacher has 23 beginning students, she should also have 18 advanced students. Don’t switch to eighteen advanced students.
CRITICAL: Consistency in rules followed by everyone in the whole organization is key to corporate image. Some organizations rely on style books, such as The Associated Press Style Book or the University of Chicago Style Book, to make sure that all their company’s written pieces follow the same style or rules.
Let’s Talk Business! | by Susan K. Maciak | PR-Communications
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