Style is important to me as a writer. I want to present my writing well, whether it’s in an email to my sister to an article for http://www.associatedcontent.com/. Writing numbers can be confusing and awkward . When I think of how badly I did in math at school I really worry about how to write numbers. The Yahoo style guide presents the basics of writing numbers at http://styleguide.yahoo.com/editing/apply-consistent-style-numbers/basics. Here’s some key points that I learned about writing numbers in online pieces.
The first and most basic rule is to spell out numbers less than 10 and to write numerals greater than ten. This rule takes a little of the math out of the writing equation. Writing involves words, sentences and paragraphs. Whether it is on paper or on a computer screen, a document should look good and please the eye. This rule makes a sentence or a paragraph look better because it displays consistency. This is the basic rule of numbers but there are several exceptions it. For example, if space is limited, such as in email subject lines or headlines, you may write out numerals less than 10. Much online writing does limit word or even space count, but in researching for this article I did not find many email subject lines or headlines that have used this rule. The pieces that seem to use it most often are list style articles about 5 reasons to do something or the top 3 top product brands. This style also allows the author to emphasize his or her points in the title of the piece. I noticed several previous list style articles which I’ve written spelled out the numbers when they could have been written under this rule.
The second rule that excepts the standard for writing numerals for single digit numbers is if there are both single digit and double digit numbers related to a passage. I use this rule a lot because I write out needle work instructions. Many of my articles are focused on writing crochet or knitting patterns that I’ve created. I might write “chain 3, complete 12 single crochets in 3rd chain from hook.” That’s a common way to start a circle in crochet. It involves both single digit numbers and a double digit number. For any numbers not in a category I would revert to the basic rule. In a birding article I might say “I saw 4 goldfinches, 2 Canada geese and 6 mallards in the space of one hour.” The time factor is not in the bird counting category so it would be spelled out.
Numerals are written when the reader uses them for input or for parts of a document like the page number. I use my windows calculator to figure solutions and I copy and paste the numerals in many of my documents. For example, if I’m calculating gauge in a crochet pattern I’ll determine that 6 single crochet stitches equal an inch and 4 rows equal an inch. If I complete 36 single crochets then I made a piece 6 inches long and if I completed 24 rows it should be 6 inches high. The calculator confirmed what I could figure out longhand this time. Not every gauge is as easy to determine. If I’m converting patterns (from crochet to knit, for example) the copy and paste feature of the calculator can save me a lot of work. This rule can also be useful for listing numbers to go into a spreadsheet. For example, when I completed an article on nutrition for diabetics I researched food standards that are common for diabetics. I summarized the details in terms that a reader could copy and paste those standards such as calories, carbohydrates and sodium amounts to create a personalized spreadsheet. I used numerals for this purpose. To be honest, I created a spreadsheet for myself out of that article. It comes in handy when I’m behaving as a diabetic should.
Use the terms thousands, millions and billions. For these terms you are allowed to abbreviate to mil, bil or k in order to save space. For example, I often describe an individuals assets on my job when he or she is requesting a payment plan. I might list savings $2k, pension plan $36k. The k can represent other words like kilobyte or kilogram but with the dollar symbol it should be clear. If you have to write a number that greater than 999 use a comma. Of course, don’t put a comma in a year or an address. This is the year 2010 , not 2,010. If you’re tired and working on a deadline that might be an automatic mistake for your fingers to make. Yes, it’s happened to me but I’ve always been lucky to catch it before transmitting a piece or an email document!
Don’t start a sentence with a number. If you must begin a sentence with a number spell it out. A sentence is an organized structure. Several of them make a neat looking paragraph. By placing a number at the front of a sentence you take away the tidy appearance of the whole paragraph. You can write a year at the beginning of a sentence, however. Also, you can write a numeral at the start of a headline sentence if space is limited or to catch the eye. I once wrote an article headlined “7 New Years Resolutions for People Managing their Diabetes.” When I first read this style guide section I mixed this rule up with the exception for writing numbers less than 10. They seem to mesh but they address different issues, both space related. A sentence shouldn’t start with a number, whether it is number 7 or number 12. However, you should write a number less than 10 as the number unless space limitations are concerned. So in an email heading I can write ” Wow, 9 eagles in 1 trip!” But when I’m writing the email I need to write “I saw eight eagles over on Green River road near Green River Park. All eight of these exciting raptors were perched in old cedars lining the farms along the road, and then another came in as I watched and landed.”
The final rule in this guide is to use a hyphen when writing numbers above 20 that end with the letter y. It’s easy for me to remember this rule because of another language I’ve associated with. I never really learned American sign language but I did pick up the numbers. I was curious how to distinguish separate numbers like 2 2 1 from whole large numbers like 221. The answer is to sign two hundred twenty – one for the whole number. The hyphen gives me a picture in my written document that is pleasing and understandable. Though ASL has it’s own grammar and I wouldn’t presume to compare one language to another this rule is clear for me.
These guidelines are what I learned from the tutorial at http://styleguide.yahoo.com/editing/apply-consistent-style-numbers/basics. There’s more neat information about consistently using numbers for subjects such as age, fractions, money and much more at http://styleguide.yahoo.com/editing . I look forward to further research in this subject. Hopefully, this information will help you write better and more confidently, as well.