Re: sorting numbers

Subject: Re: sorting numbers
From: Lauren <lauren -at- writeco -dot- net>
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
Date: Fri, 12 Jul 2013 12:57:32 -0700

On 7/11/2013 10:18 AM, Laurie Little wrote:

A client's documentation says "Numbers will sort alphabetically rather than
in numeric order (i.e. 1, 11, 2, 209, 33...)". Is this type of sort truly
considered "alphabetical" or something else?

It's wrong to call it alphabetical. Numbers are sorted like words by ordering each digit in series from the left, so it is an alpha-sort of sorts and is called, alphanumeric sorting. Robert Lauritson and Fred Ridder explained that well enough. Chris Morton mentioned that it was ASCII sort. I mostly agree with Peter and Andrew on this. An old school remedy for that type of sort is to use leading zeroes so that every number has the same number of digits and will sort numerically. Modern applications adjust for real-world numbers.

Excel mangles sorting and Microsoft explains how to fix this along with some definitions you may be able to incorporate into your documentation.

I would be tempted to say, "Our programmers are idiots, so use leading zeroes to get the numbers to sort numerically or accept that numbers are sorted like words by ordering each digit in series from the left." It is probably best to leave out the sarcasm and just say, "The application uses an alphanumeric sort that sorts numbers by digit left to right instead of by number value."

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