The Write Stuff July 2021 Volume 17 Issue 7

Numbers unraveled

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.

A new way forward

I had the honor of editing an exciting new book, Disruption Proof, that examines how to create organizations that are RAD — resilient, aware and dynamic. Brant Cooper has written a gem that’s a must-read for those who wish to empower people, create value and drive change. You can pre-order your copy here.

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…
Published On: July 15th, 2021 / Categories: 2021 /

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