Writing Numbers

A look at whether to use digits or words when writing numbers in your manuscript.

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You will undoubtably come across numbers when you’re writing. Unfortunately, there are no formal, universally-adhered-to rules when it comes to whether or not you spell the numbers out or you just use the digit.

In other words, you can either write ‘three’ or ‘3’ depending on your own preference.

What there is, however, is the rule of consistency. It applies to most elements of your writing but it also applies to writing numbers.

On the 11/5/79 he was born, and a year later on 11-05-1980 he had his first birthday.

It is worth observing that numerical figures need to be written in specified and consistent formats. Swapping the day and month around (as per UK and US styles) is unlikely, but changing the use of either the full year or the shortened last two digits of it is a much more common mistake. Different punctuation to separate digits is also a regular error that writers make in first drafts.

It was three hundred metres high but only twenty-seven feet wide, and had stood for seventy four years.

Although it may appear correct, this sentence is technically wrong. The use of hyphens between linked numbers is optional, but again must be consistent throughout an entire piece of writing, not just within sentences or even chapters.

It was the year 1956, and three people decided to get their 2 boats together and journey to the year nineteen fifty.

This is not consistent. Using both formats for writing numbers is poorly thought-out and appears messy. You need to stick to one – either words or digits.

Having said that, there are different categories of numbers, within which you will need to decide what format to use.

Date and/or Year

I use digits for a year because I think it looks nicer on the page – 2017 instead of twenty-seventeen or two-thousand and seventeen.

Numbers

I always write these down with words, except for chapter titles.

Chapter 2

He had three wives.

Time

I write these using digits, again, because I think it looks better written that way – 11:59pm instead of eleven fifty-nine.

 

It is down to you how you decide to write numbers in your text. You can do what you think feels best, as long as you’re consistently doing it that way. And, if you’re having trouble being consistent then just use one thing – either digits or words – for every number that comes your way.

Davina Chime is a Thanet-born hopeless romantic.

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