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I want to know if numbers should be written alphabetically in educational contexts, for instance:

10 plasma samples out of 1016 cannot be ignored.


Ten plasma samples out of one thousand and sixteen cannot be ignored.

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What's "an educational context"? Are you in high school, college, graduate school, medical school? Writing a thesis? Do you have an advisor? Are you submitting a lab report or a thesis? Do you know if there's an existing style book you're supposed to follow? –  Lauren Ipsum Mar 17 '12 at 23:48
"in a journal or something"? Any specific journal? Does the journal have an established style for numbers? –  Lauren Ipsum Mar 17 '12 at 23:52
Gigili, her point is that it varies from one place to the next. There isn't a standard rule that covers all contexts. –  Aerovistae Mar 18 '12 at 2:44
The answer to this question will change depending on the journal's requirements and the style guide being used. Attempting to determine this before the style rewuirements are known is worse than useless, and possibly harmful to the paper. –  Neil Fein Mar 18 '12 at 20:34
A very good question. The example, however, is not broad enough: Do not spell out statistical data. I would always go for the first option, that of using numerals. This no matter what style guide one is following. As for the narrative part of your paper, you may decide on the basis of the context and its tone on a sentence to sentence basis. –  Kris Mar 25 '12 at 10:18

3 Answers 3

up vote 3 down vote accepted

For a technical journal, you would want to use numerals, not spell out the numbers.

Our journals follow The Associated Press Stylebook style (for the most part), which means that we do spell out numbers less than 10, but use numerals for numbers 10 and greater. We also use numerals when the numeral is followed by a unit of measurement, even if the numeral is less than 10. And we would not use a numeral to begin a sentence. (So in your example, we would use this: "Ten plasma samples out of 116 cannot be ignored." Or "Ten plasma samples out of 1016 cannot be ignored." (If you actually meant to write out one-thousand and sixteen.)

Also, if your paper is accepted, most journals will have editors helping you with the style in your back-and-forth communications.

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I couldn't seem to leave a comment on mrdwab's answer (no comment button to click). I agree with mrdwab, we would try to recast the sentence to avoid beginning it with a number. In the example it was a small number, so I didn't want to get into that. As for mrdwab's comment about writing out both three and ten, we would still write out three but use 10 (following AP Style). That's just the style we follow. –  JLG Mar 18 '12 at 19:21
Users can't leave comments until they reach 50 rep, I think you'll see that comment button on others' answers fairly soon. –  Neil Fein Mar 18 '12 at 20:41
Thank you for explaining. I appreciate it. –  JLG Mar 18 '12 at 21:20

There is no single standard, but some things to consider:

  • If the numbers are of comparable units, use the form you would use for the greatest number in your sentence, according to your style guide. For example, if the greatest number is "10" and your style guide says to "write numbers ten or lower as numerals, and numbers greater than ten as words", and the numbers in your sentence were 3 and 10, you would write "Three plasma samples out of ten cannot be ignored". However, if the numbers in your sentence were 10 and 116, you would write "10 plasma samples out of 116 cannot be ignored".
  • Except..., as @JLG pointed out, you generally should not use a numeral at the start of the sentence; however, unlike @JLG's suggestion, I would recommend recasting the sentence so that no numbers appear at the start. I suggest this because based on the point above, that would mean having to write out large numbers as words which isn't

Also, please note that the expanded word form of 116 should be "one hundred sixteen", and that there is an inconsistency in your original post: is the value 116 or 1016?

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Just a late thought: It depends on the impact you would like the number to have, if you use digits the visual reception of the quantity is immediate. The spelled-out words has lesser influence and to some extend obfuscates the number.

So I would think if the number is important it should be shown as digits, and if the application of the number is of greater concern it should be spelled-out.

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I think your answer makes more sense, thank you. –  Gigili Mar 23 '12 at 1:19

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