Wick Communications

Getting numbers right

In Writing on 10 Oct 2013 at 8:42 pm


I would venture to guess that no point of style gives Wick journalists more trouble than numerals. And with good reason. The rules are somewhat arbitrary and definitely hard to remember. Ages, grade levels, addresses, temperatures, scores – there is a lot to remember.

Please don’t guess. It’s not important that you commit AP style things to memory, it’s only important that you know when to look up something. You should know when you are writing a child’s age that there is a right way and a wrong way to refer about a 5-year-old boy.

The general rule is this: spell out numerals (one, two, three, etc.) up through nine, then use numerals for 10 and above. The exceptions are many. For instance, ages, monetary units, wind speeds and temperatures should always be numerals.

For fun, take a moment to review “numerals,” “grades” and “scores” in your stylebook. OK, just pretend it’s fun.

Dailywritingtips.com notes some other common ways in which journalists go awry with numbers:

  • Take care when using the word “over” before a sequence of numbers that might be confused for a figure, as in “The Ohio city will settle a lawsuit over 911 calls.” Consider a different word for “over,” such as “regarding.” …
  •  Two numbers in numeral form should not appear in sequence. “The day I turned 50, 100 angels lost their wings.” A quick read might render that as 50,100…
  • Finally, do not use forces or troops to refer to individual military service members. In other words, be careful writing something like, “78 troops were found buried in the rubble.” The site recommends using “soldiers,” “sailors,” “marines” and so forth since a troop might be viewed as a collective.

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