How to handle numbers in copy is often perplexing, primarily because the two most popular writing styles — AP and Chicago — treat them differently. AP is more commonly used in the world of business, while Chicago is a staple of the book world. My advice is to simply be consistent. Here are a few tips.
Numerical or spelled out
Both styles recommend spelling out numbers under 10, but Chicago goes even further, advocating spelling them out through 100.
- My niece turned 23 yesterday. (AP)
- My niece turned twenty-three yesterday. (Chicago)
The percent exception
Both styles agree that percentages appear as numbers, but they diverge from there.
- I’ve been a freelancer for about 45% of my career. (AP)
- I’ve been a freelancer for about 45 percent of my career. (Chicago—which does give a nod to using % in scientific and statistical copy)
Beginning a sentence
No matter which style you use, numbers should always be spelled out begin a sentence. For that reason, rewording may be preferable.
- Wrong: 110 people attended our event.
- Meh: One hundred ten people attended our event.
- Better #1: Our event was attended by 110 people.
- Better #2: In all, 110 people attended our event.
I hope this is helpful. Contact me if you have questions about how to treat other numbers in content.
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First, be careful
Before you write the word first, be sure there’s a second (and maybe more) coming, or else you leave readers hanging. Quite often when I’m editing, I have to search for seconds I never find.
There are a couple good alternatives available that will eliminate that issue:
- To begin…
- Start by…