Archives for posts with tag: Numbers

What is the rule when it comes to using numbers in content? Should we use numeric symbols or spell them out? I don’t definitively know, but that won’t stop me offering some standards around which how I like to operate.

First things first: I think dates and big numbers should always be represented numerically. They’re simply too tiresome to spell out, unless for some quirky or emphatic reason. What I’m really talking about is the instances where we want to use smaller numbers.

1 example to start. It looks awkward if you begin a sentence with a number, unless it’s a bulleted or numbered list.

The key is consistency I think. If you’re going to use a small number a small number of times, spell the small number out. It can be quite emphatic and also easy on the eye. If you’re set on numerals, be consistent, but try not to begin sentences with a number. Here’s an example of a post I wrote where I spell out the numbers consistently and refer to dates numerically. Spoiler alert: you can’t click on that post until after January 1st 2020. I’ve never ever published a link to a document available in the future before, it feels slightly odd.

Where do you stop the bigger the numbers get, and how do you punctuate? I’m OK with seventeen. I’m also OK with twenty-three, if the context is right and there aren’t too many numbers in the content. What about one hundred and thirty-eight? It’a bit unwieldy isn’t it, and did I get the hyphen right? The higher the number, the more unwieldy, unless it’s a round number, naturally.

So, spelling out numbers depends on the 3 C’s: consistency, context and common sense. And would you believe it, according to this source you only need to hyphenate the numbers between 21 and 99, or twenty-one and ninety-nine. Technically, then, we’d write thirty-two million, seven hundred and ninety-eight thousand, four hundred and fifty-six, though why we wouldn’t put 32,793,456 is lost on me.

They say that three’s a crowd, but for me there’s something elegant, memorable and succinct about groups of 3.

I like the grouping of that particular number. We seem to be locked into the number 3 in a way that 1, 2 or a number greater than 3 can’t really get to. Maybe that’s why we feel so comfortable with TLAs, those handy ways of summarising a sometimes difficult concept inĀ  3 easy letters. NGO, PVC, and of course TLA; each industry or milieu has a gazillion of them, serving as shorthand, occasionally inclusive but also sometimes excluding.

Business seems to be fond of the number 3 as well. Getting 3 quotes is always advisable, 3 key metrics is a good management starting point, and a good presentation slide starts with 3 bullet points. I know I’m easy with it, and many times in my writing, from this blog to reports and even books, I find myself grouping my phrases into 3’s. You can see an example in the first line of this post. Another example might be ‘let’s make sure we have a good session tomorrow, keeping it simple, focusing on the basics, and staying on track.’

So I shall continue my attachment to groups of 3. I like it, it works for me, and I think it resonates with my audience.