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Don't Let Numbers Trip You Up

Let's face it: business writing includes lots of figures and statistics. Business Writing That Counts! can guide business writers into more effective ways to influence and persuade on paper with webinars such as "Writing that Sells!" Learn how to present numbers consistently and to understand the meaning of words that indicate quantity or frequency to prevent potentially costly misunderstandings.

Follow Style

Your company might not have a house style, but if it does, be sure to follow it for company terms, titles and how to address numbers in your business writing. If you have no style, it's probably best to follow Associated Press (AP) Style, which is designed for news writing and applies to most consumer publications. (Academic style often differs, and there are nearly as many guides as there are industries.)

So, if you follow AP Style for numbers, here is how to remember when to use a figure and when to spell out a number:


Most business writing styles suggest spelling out numbers one through nine and using figures for 10 and above. It also is common to spell out numbers that begin a sentence. So, "one banana," "23 participants" and "Thirty years ago, …" when it begins a sentence. Exceptions to spelling numbers below 10 include addresses and ages (6 years old or 8-year-old boy). Also use figures for all dates, years and decades. Figures are correct for measurements of distances or dimensions (6 feet tall, 2-mile walk), times of day (8 o'clock or 8 a.m.) and for currency (5 cents).

Ordinal numbers

These numbers indicate order and follow a similar rule: spell out below 10 (eighth grade) and use figures for 10 and above (25th annual picnic).


Here, the number "1" is your guideline. For fractions less than a whole (1), spell out the fraction: one-fourth of the employees… Use figures when the fraction is greater than one (1 5/8; 2 1/2). Be sure to add the forward slash between the fraction and a space between the whole number and fraction for clarity.

Words for Frequency

The English language includes several succinct terms to indicate how often an event occurs. These are words such as annual, biannual, semimonthly, etc. They can cause confusion, but here is a quick summary:

Bi- stands for two. Biannual means two times a year (as does semiannual). Biennial, a change of just one vowel, means every two years. Bimonthly means every other month, or six times a year. Biweekly refers to every other week.

Semi- stands for half. So, semimonthly means something occurs twice a month (cutting the month in half). Semiweekly means two times a week.

If these words still trip you up, you are not alone. Historically, style experts and dictionaries have disagreed. So, avoid confusion by using the correct meaning and adding detail to prevent misunderstanding by the reader. For example: "The subscription requires biannual payments, due on March 15 and October 15."

Knowledge and practice help you understand numbers and frequency. And we have the knowledge with which you can practice! Purchase one of our online writing courses today (and maybe bimonthly) on your way to improving your writing. Or learn more by calling us at (425)-485-3221.

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