Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Strange Practice of Placing Numbers after Words

I thought instead of imparting wisdom today, I would prove to you that I don't have all the answers (but I'm continuing working on them) and ask you a question.

I began teaching business communication in 1982 and most recently taught it in 2008. Since 2008, I have been involved in proofreading, editing, writing and advising small businesses and government agencies about communication issues. My involvement in writing, proofreading etc began quite a lot earlier than 1982.

However, I'm not trying to impress you with my experience, but simply to state that in all that time I have seen very few documents written with numbers in words followed by figures in brackets as shown twice in the extract below. I received a document today from which I cropped the part shown in the blue graphic:

My question is, "Why do people place figures for numbers after words for those numbers"?

It seems totally irrational to me. If it is done on the assumption that readers have difficulty with words written as numbers, then why don't they have equal difficulty with other words eg, "person" after which I would expect to see a drawing of a person?

If the reason is to make number facts stand out, then why not simply use numbers without the words? 

Current convention, at least in Australia, is to use words for numbers from zero to nine and figures thereafter ie 10 and greater. This makes sense to me and at least is consistent.

Please comment here and answer the question above. I already know that this style was used in the dim, dark ages of the 20s through 40s, what I don't know and have been unable to find out, is why.


PS: I came up with a new saying, "I always know the days on which I should never have played golf. But I never know until the last hole."

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