Writing … by the numbers

Do you know how to write your numbers?
Do you know how to write your numbers?

It doesn’t matter what you write; whether it be non-fiction, fiction, articles, reviews or simply readers’ letters occasionally – you will at some stage find yourself using numbers. Yes, we’re all very good at words … a few letters added together. How rapidly can you remember when a number should be spelt out as a word, or written as a figure? Is it two, or 2, forty, or 40?

Like many areas of writing, I rely on my military background for a description. Yes, it’s that old faithful; it’s a bloody minefield.

Before looking at the detail, let’s look at the circumstances. If you are writing for a magazine, newspaper, or any established publication, you have it sorted for you. Every publication has a ‘house style’ or ‘submission guidelines’ which will keep you in line. This is equally true of feature/article writing or non-fiction. Imagine you’re about to write a piece for ‘Young Scientist and Inventor’, or some similarly titled magazine – it will have its own rules.

Rather than make this post look like an algebra lesson, yes, that mathematics discipline that involves letters and numbers – I’m going to give an intro here, and a link to ‘Creative Writer and Artist’ which is one of my two websites. I have a comprehensive guide to using numbers within creative writing on that particular site.

* If the number is between one and ten, it should be spelt out. Anything from 11 upwards should be shown as figures. There are of course some exceptions.

* A sentence is best not started with a number, because it must be spelt out, so the easiest thing to do is avoid it; by restructuring the sentence. Enough said there.

* If the two different ‘categories’ of numbers are to appear in the same sentence, then a fair guide is to show both as spelt out – not one spelt out, and the other shown as a figure.

Now, be honest; how many of those three points were you confident about? Obviously, there are exceptions, as there are with any rules or guidelines. Think about such things as; dates, times, distances, temperatures, measurements … getting the point? 

At this point I’d like to express my thanks to Lorraine Mace and Maureen Vincent-Northam for covering this topic so well in their joint venture; ‘THE WRITER’S abc CHECKLIST’. I’ve learned about writing numbers from various sources, but the aforementioned book is my bible on the matter. If you haven’t got a copy – get one! It’s available from various sources, including; Amazon and Accent Press.

Unless you’re one of those clever-clogs writers that already has this area sorted in your mind, please feel free to use the link below and see a more detailed explanation, and as always; thank you for reading my blog.

http://www.tom-benson.co.uk/writing and numbers 


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