Monday, October 12, 2009

Editorial Tip of the Week: One, 101

Many of us who love literature may find ourselves avoiding numbers. Some of us read because we'd rather not calculate. Of course, this definitely isn't true for all bibliophiles! Still, my father often laments that, when Mom was reading to my sister and I, he should've been right there with a calculator showing us that numbers are fun!

However, no matter how hard we try to avoid numbers, they still come up in our writing. They crop up and remind us that because two trains traveling 301 miles will inevitably cross paths at "Point A" or "Point B," you should know when to spell and when to use numerals.

Chicago does.

Generally, Old Orange and Faithful recommends spelling out "whole numbers from one through one hundred, round numbers [hundreds, thousands, hundred thousands, and millions], and any numbers beginning a sentence. For other numbers, numerals are used."

Of course, in scientific or technical material, numerals are typically used across the board. (You know, because they don't have bad childhood memories in which they feel tricked by the promise of "word problems.")

As an alternative rule, Chicago notes "many publications, including those in scientific and financial contexts, follow the simple rule of spelling out only single-digit numbers and using numerals for all others." Buyer beware: this could lead to "awkward locutions," so proceed with caution and "flexibility." Now, if you ask me, ten dollar words are also awkward. Alas, I am not the author of the Tangerine Tablet, and I do appreciate the clarity with which it explains most grammar gripes. Moving on.

Take home: remember to maintain consistency and flexibility when using numbers multiple times in a paragraph or paper. Consistency is the key to success. "If according to rule you must use numerals for one of the numbers in a given category, use them for all in that category. In the same sentence or paragraph, however, items in one category may be given as numerals and items in another spelled out."

For more information, exceptions, and rules, see 9.8 - 9.13 in your own Salmon Syntax Guide.

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