Writing Numbers – 5 Rules To Remember

June 30, 2011

in Writing Style

Writing numbers is a tricky discipline that confuses the best of writers at time. Style guides vary on their recommendations, and many of the rules aren’t set in stone. However, there are five rules that are generally agreed on and have set a small standard guide for writers to follow.

1. Numbers Smaller Than Ten

When writing numbers smaller than ten, you should write the number out.  The reason for this is simply because it looks more professional. The last thing you want is for your sentence to look like something pasted from a text message. In your opinion what do you think looks better? “The two blind cats played together”. Or, “The 2 blind cats played together”.

2. Starting Numbers With Sentences

Never start a sentence with a number. For example, don’t write, “400 copies were sold today”. Instead, write, “Today we sold 400 copies”. Don’t ask why, it’s just not the done thing. And that’s the thing with writing numbers, there often isn’t a reason as to why a rule has been made, only that ground rules have been agreed on following a consensus rule on what looks better on paper

3. Writing Two Separate Numbers Next To Each Other

Writing two numbers next to each other looks confusing. For example, “24 25 year olds”. Instead, write, “Twenty four 25-year olds”. This eliminates confusion for the reader.

4. Using A Comma To Separate Large Numbers

When writing numbers, make sure you use a comma to separate numbers over 1,000. This rule helps to make numbers easier to read. For example, “The road is 458, 987 miles long,” rather than, “The road is 458987 miles long”. The same applies to tens of thousands, millions and billions, etc.

5. Writing Percentages

In formal writing you should always spell “percent” out for the reader. For example, “16 percent of the people,” not, “16% of the people.” With less formal writing you can get away with writing the percentage sign (%); for example in blogs and online articles.

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