Style Matters #9: Wrangling numbers ain’t that hard

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It is surprising how many writers struggle to master the rules for expressing dates, date ranges, numbers, times, ages, etc.

So let’s review the basics, starting with dates.

The style for expressing dates is simple and sees the name of the month and then the numeral/s representing the day. The addition of th or st is outdated. If using a year as well, this should follow a comma.

Incorrect: She will arrive in the country on 1 May, 2014.
Incorrect: She will arrive in the country on May 1st, 2014.
Incorrect: She will arrive in the country on 1st May, 2014.
Correct: She will arrive in the country on May 1, 2014.

And, for date ranges.

Incorrect: The movie is screening from April 28-May 3. (the hyphen does not substitute for the word to)
Correct: The movie is screening from April 28 to May 3.

Incorrect: The movie is screening between April 28-May 3. (again, the hyphen is not a substitute for the word and)
Correct: The movie is screening between April 28 and May 3.
Correct: The movie is screening April 28-May 3.

Then we should review how to express numbers.

The usual guideline is to spell out numbers up to nine and then use numerals beyond that, with numbers greater than 10,000 carrying commas. The exceptions to this include percentages, currency amounts, ages and measurements, which are always expressed as numerals. This rule is suspended if a number begins a sentence, when it is always spelled out. So, where possible, it is wise to avoid starting sentences with a number.

And remember, when stating the time of day, use a full point (not a colon, which is only used to express stop watch timings in sports stories) and ensure the am or pm are hard up against the time itself.

Incorrect (twice): The eleven players boarded the bus straight after the 7:30pm game.
Correct: The 11 players boarded the bus straight after the 7.30pm game.

Correct: The marathon’s winner crossed the line in 2:04:30.5. (which means 2 hours, 4 minutes and 30.5 seconds)

Correct: Thirty bodies were recovered from the rubble.
Correct: Rescuers recovered 30 bodies from the rubble.

Incorrect: A three percent downturn in the US market over the 3-day weekend saw the company’s share price dip five cents when the local market opened bringing losses over the past week to one dollar.
Correct
: A 3 per cent downturn in the US market over the three-day weekend saw the company’s share price dip 5 cents when the local market opened, bringing losses over the past week to $1.00. (Note: per cent is short for per centum and should not be expressed as one word, percent)

And, finally, we should review the way ages and age ranges are expressed. Care needs to be taken with the way sentences including ages are constructed.

Incorrect: A man aged 23 years old was charged with aggravated assault.
Correct
: A man, 23, was charged with aggravated assault.
Correct: A 23-year-old man was charged with aggravated assault. (but it’s longer)
Correct: A man aged 23 was charged with aggravated assault. (ditto)

Incorrect: The man was aged 23 years old when he was charged with aggravated assault.
Correct
: The man was 23 years of age when he was charged with aggravated assault.
Correct: The man was 23 years old when he was charged with aggravated assault. (no hyphens)

Incorrect: Girls aged between 6 and 8 years of age will be invited.
Correct
: Girls aged 6 to 8 years will be invited.
Correct: Girls 6-8 years will be invited.
Correct: Girls aged between 6 and 8 years will be invited. (but longer)

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If you like what you’ve read here, you can see reporting4work’s similar posts at Style Matters

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