Writing Numbers

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How do you write numbers? This is a common question asked by many writers. The answer depends on what field you’re working in or what style guide you need to follow. Arabic numerals are generally used in commercial, mathematics, statistics, science, or technical fields. Other works like literary or humanistic mostly use numbers written out in words.

Some types of numbers are always written as figures. This is to avoid confusion, and to assist the reader with comprehension. These include:

  • Dates
  • Percentages
  • Decimal fractions
  • Currency
  • Measurements
  • Weights
  • Tables
  • Times of day
  • In related series of numbers provided for comparison.

If a number is used to start a sentence, it should always be written out:

  • Seventy-five of the buttons were blue.
  • One hundred pencils need to be sharpened.

But what about other writing like fiction or correspondence? The general convention is to write out numbers as words when writing from one through nine, and to use figures from 10 onwards. Below are some examples:

  • We need four eggs for the omelette.
  • The car yard had 14 yellow sedans.

Though, the Australian Style manual for authors, editors and printers says to write out numbers from one to one hundred if the document is primarily text. It also suggests the use of numerals in only some sections is acceptable if needed to emphasise precision, or to avoid clumsiness, in a document that is scattered with statistics or similar. For a document that is heavy with statistics, the style manual says to use numerals throughout.

With the various rules concerning whether to write out numbers or not being so different, it’s no wonder we sometimes get confused. Whatever style you decide to use, if you’re not following a style guide, make sure you stay consistent.


Kristy Taylor is a syndicated freelance journalist with articles and short stories strewn across all forms of media. She has written and published numerous books, and is the executive editor of KT Publishing, which encompasses several web sites. For free listings of short story competitions visit http://www.shortstorycompetitions.com

To contact Kristy, email her at mail@kristytaylor.com


This piece may NOT be freely reprinted. Please contact editor @ howtotellagreatstory.com for reprint rights.

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