RE: Write out numbers -- or not?

Subject: RE: Write out numbers -- or not?
From: Kevin McLauchlan <kmclauchlan -at- safenet-inc -dot- com>
To: TECHWR-L <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 5 Apr 2007 11:57:04 -0400

linda_sims -at- vanguard -dot- com responded to Brigitte with:

> Brigitte Johnson wrote on 04/05/2007 10:28:29 AM:
> > A question about when to spell out numbers...
> >
> > I edit technical reports that are full of numbers indicating pounds,
> > inches, degrees, minutes, etc. I'm familiar with the rule about spelling
> > the numbers out when they're ten or below (and then using 11, 12, etc.).
> > However, what would you all do if you came across a situation like this?
> >
> > "Currently, three operators work at this job every day; each operator
> > works an 8-hour shift, and may also work overtime. Operators handle
> > approximately three 50-lb bags of acid per batch. The cycle time is
> > approximately 20 minutes per batch, and the production standard for this
> > operation is 6 to 7 batches per shift."
> >
> > When to spell out and when not to? Or, use all numbers? I find it
> > difficult to "pull out" the important items (like 6 to 7 batches per
> > shift) if they're spelled out, and I've read that, in technical reports
> > like these, it's best to just use the numbers. What would you do?
> That's a rule that works well for things like business
> reports/correspondence or school papers (and school is where we all
> learned it).
> When you're dealing with technical information, however, it's usually best
> to stick to arabic numerals because they are easily and quickly
> recognizable as numbers. In your place, I'd change both "three"s to "3",
> and I'd put a comma between "3" and "50-lb" so that it's obvious you're
> not talking about a 350-lb bag of acid per batch.

First, I believe the original thrust of the question was regarding the "6 to
7 batches per shift". I think it's fine and clear that way, rather than
writing out "six to seven batches...".

The "three"s, on the other hand, are in a different situation. For clarity
and ease of comprehension, my personal reaction is that I'm much more
comfortable reading
"approximately three 50-lb bags"
"approximately 3, 50-lb bags"

Depending on the font/typeface that was being read, and if the weight of the
bag got a little bigger, you might find yourself reading "approximately
3,500-lb bags".

If it's a strong preference to go all-numeral, then I'd insert some
clarifying structural bits:
"approximately quantity 3 of 50-lb bags".
That way, there's very little opportunity for mistake, and no need to
backtrack to verify what you thought you read.

As always, YMMV.

(Or, YKMV.... your kilometrage may vary)


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