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Writing Numbers

Summary:

This section discusses numbers, how to write them correctly, and when to use numerical expressions instead.

Contributors:Chris Berry
Last Edited: 2011-11-16 02:16:42

Although usage varies, most people spell out numbers that can be expressed in one or two words and use figures for other numbers. Note: If you are using a specific citation style, such as MLA or APA, consult the style manual for specific formatting instructions.

Words

over two pounds
six million dollars
after thirty-one years
eighty-three people

Figures

after 126 days
only $31.50
6,381 bushels
4.78 liters

Here are some examples of specific situations.

Days and Years

December 12, 1965 or 12 December 1965
A.D. 1066
in 1900
in 1971-72 or in 1971-1972
the eighties, the twentieth century
the 1980's or the 1980s

Time of Day

8:00 A.M. (or) a.m. (or) eight o'clock in the morning
4:30 P.M. (or) p.m. (or) half-past four in the afternoon

Addresses

16 Tenth Street
350 West 114 Street

Identification Numbers

Room 8
Channel 18
Interstate 65
Henry VIII

Page and Division of Books and Plays

page 30
chapter 6
in act 3, scene 2 (or) in Act III, Scene ii

Decimals and Percentages

a 2.7 average
13.25 percent (in nonscientific contexts)
25% (in scientific contexts)
.037 metric ton

Large Round Numbers

four billion dollars (or) $4 billion
16,500,000 (or) 16.5 million

Notes on Usage

Repeat numbers in commercial writing.

The bill will not exceed one hundred (100) dollars.

Use numerals in legal writing.

The cost of damage is $1,365.42.

Numbers in series and statistics should be consistent.

two apples, six oranges, and three bananas
NOT: two apples, 6 oranges, and 3 bananas
115 feet by 90 feet (or) 115' x 90'
scores of 25-6 (or) scores of 25 to 6
The vote was 9 in favor and 5 opposed

Write out numbers beginning sentences.

Six percent of the group failed.
NOT: 6% of the group failed.

Use a combination of figures and words for numbers when such a combination will keep your writing clear.

Unclear: The club celebrated the birthdays of 6 90-year-olds who were born in the city. (may cause the reader to read '690' as one number.)
Clearer: The club celebrated the birthdays of six 90-year-olds who were born in the city.

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