Could you imagine if we had to write out every phone number each time? You’d need to use both sides of the cocktail napkin! I get writer’s cramp just thinking about it:
With the addition of using area codes because we have so many more phone numbers, we’d spend hours scrolling through our phone’s contact lists. Most of us know we use figures for phone numbers.
When you think about using numbers in other business writing, though, are you as confident? Sometimes if you choose to spell check a document, the program may catch an error and ask if you want it changed, but always remember spell check isn’t right all the time so it’s best to know this yourself.
Try a couple of these and determine what needs correcting:
- 351 people attended the performance.
- There were one hundred and thirty-five pieces in the puzzle.
- Class started at eight-thirty A.M. in Room Twenty.
- In the sixties, there were sit-ins at 100s of colleges
- Only fifty percent of high school students go on to college.
There’s a couple simple rules I follow when writing numbers in business communications.
A. When using one through nine, write out the number.
B. When using 10 and higher, use the figures. (The exception is that if the written number is not long, you can use it in the sentence.)
C. If the number comes at the beginning of a sentence, either spell it out or rewrite the sentence. (Most readers find it easier to read a couple digits than a three-word number.)
In general, we use figures for the following:
Addresses: 23 Main Street; 5 Victory Boulevard
Dates: July 4, 1976; 4 B.C.
Decimals/fractions: 63.34; 9½
Exact Amounts of money: $1.5 billion; $2.25; 35 cents
Percentages: 45 percent or 45%
Scores & statistics: an 8-5 Brewer victory; an average of 37
Time of Day: 7:30AM or 7:30 a.m.
And if you’re unsure when to use number or amount, keep this is mind: Use amount for quanitities you cannot count; use number for quantities you can count. A small number of volunteers cleared a large amount of brush.
Looking back at the five examples above, would you answer them differently now?
- Three hundred fifty-one people attended the performance.
- There were 135 pieces in the puzzle.
- Class started at 8:30 A.M. in Room 20.
- In the sixties, there were sit-ins at hundreds of colleges.
- Only 50 percent of high school students go on to college.