Mixing words and numbers in a sentence?

Subject: Mixing words and numbers in a sentence?
From: "Geoff Hart" <geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca>
To: TECHWR-L -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com
Date: Wed, 1 Dec 1999 08:29:27 -0500

John Posada queried the sentence: "Note: You can change the
default display from 4 images to 9 or 16 images by selecting
"Image Display Options" from the menu bar." <<One of the
developers is wearing his tech writer hat and is mumbling that the
numbers 4 and 9 should be written as words>>

Although that's not a bad rule in general writing, it doesn't
accomodate one fairly basic feature of human perception: the mind
processes numerals, words (including words for numerals), and
graphics in different manners. In effect, the mind changes over to a
new mode of processing (a new "context") to process each
different type of information it encounters, then changes back
again. (Wish I could remember where I read about this... a psych
textbook, if memory serves, but I don't remember which one. Any
cognitive scientists out there who can provide details in the form of
a good reference?)

So keeping the numbers all in the same form (numerals) minimizes
context switching and makes for more efficient processing of the
information. How significant this repeated context switching
actually is in terms of reading speed and comprehension hasn't, to
my knowledge, been demonstrated through research, though I don't
keep up on these things anymore and probably missed something.
But in all likelihood, using both numerals and words probably
represents at least a slight "friction" on reading, and why add any
friction to reading? That suggests sticking with the numerals
throughout.


--Geoff Hart @8^{)} geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca (Pointe-Claire, Quebec)
"If you can't explain it to an 8-year-old, you don't understand it"--Albert Einstein




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