Most essay writers get confused when it comes to handling numbers. But like it or not, you’re going to have to deal with numbers one way or another throughout your writing career, so you might as well familiarize yourself with them. Don’t worry. You won’t have to do a lot of counting and computing, but you’ll have to figure out how to present these numbers in your essays.
One important rule to understand is that there are actually no clear and standard rules for writing numbers. American writers have different conventions from British writers, which are also different from the standards set by the International Systems of Units. What you’re going to read here are simply guidelines that most essay writers abide by. To be completely sure, ask your professor what set of rules he prefers when it comes to dealing with the numbers.
1. Numbers and numerals are different.
A number is a concept. A numeral is the symbol used to represent that concept. Thus, “five,” “5” and “V” are all numerals that are used to convey the idea of five. Thus, when you’re dealing with how to write numbers in your essay, you’re actually trying to figure out which numerals should be used for your essay.
2. Small numbers are spelled out.
You don’t write 1 to 10. You write one to ten. That is a standard most writing experts agree on. From eleven onwards, opinions vary. Some writers choose to spell out numbers that do not exceed two words, such as seventy-four as opposed to 75. Others say that numbers that exceed more than one digit, aside from the number 10, ought to be written out, such as 11, 843 and 9,500.
3. Spell out numbers found at the beginning of the sentence.
“Thirty-four students are enrolled in Mrs. Mathis’ class,” is better than “34 students are enrolled in Mrs. Mathis’ class.” However, spelling out longer numbers, such as in “Two hundred and thirty thousand students were found to have outstanding loans” can result in a sentence that’s too chunky and a hassle to understand. In cases like this, you might need to do a bit of rephrasing. Instead of the original sentence, you can write “Outstanding loans affect 230,000 students.”
4. Separate big numbers.
Large numbers can be hard to read. Instead of saying “Texas has a total land area of 268820 square kilometers,” separate the number at the thousands using a comma. In other places, such as in continental Europe, a period is used to separate numbers by the millions and the thousands, while the comma is used to indicate a decimal. The International System of Units uses a space and a comma to indicate decimals. Thus, under this system, you would write “Mr. Garret has a total of $35 559,50 in assets.
5. Use numerals for time, dates and telephone numbers.
Apart from writing “It’s four o’clock” and “It was the hour of four in the afternoon,” all other means of writing time involves writing it down using numerals. For example, write 4:35 p.m. instead of four-thirty-five. Specific dates are all written in numerals, such as March 16, September 8 and December 25. Telephone numbers are long series of numbers. They should also be written in numeral form.