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Numerals vs. Words in Technical Documents

Posted by
Anastasia in Technical Writing on 11/19/20193 min read

paper calendar banner

Do you have any second thoughts when spelling out things like two million three hundred thousand kilos? Or, on the contrary, when you prefer numerals in sentences like:

Creating a new documentation portal will take you no longer than 1 minute!

These sentences are grammatically correct, but something seems off with how numerals are expressed.

In this article, we will provide you with several guidelines on how to make numerals in your technical documents friendlier based merely on common sense and expertise.

Again, there are no strict grammar rules for this matter, so we will have to rely on ourselves as experts.

Why is this even important?

Sometimes reading numerals is just harder depending on how they are written in a text. And, so, it becomes more difficult to digest such texts in general.

Technical writers are always in pursuit of super clear and comprehensible texts, and having numerals in place is going to help reach this goal.

General Advice on Using Numerals in Tech Docs

pile of blue numbers

A lot of things can be expressed through numerals in technical documentation. Quite often numbers are just part of some proper name or title, like Nimbus 1000 and Richard II of England. Or, they can be part of your product name/version, like AwesomeApp-100 2.0. In such cases, you should just use numerals, of course.

What we see as the perfect balance between using numerals and spelling them out is:

  • 1-10 numerals are preferable
  • 11+ feel free to spell them out!

However, when you are trying to gather data in a table, we recommend that you use numerals. Words look awkward in tables and occupy too much space.

If you’ve stumbled upon a number used in more of a general than technical sense like Part One or Day 2, pick whatever seems more appropriate, this won’t make any difference. Just make sure to follow through with what you pick, which brings us to the next part of this post - consistency.

Consistency is Key

maple leaf on a laptop

When you work out your own sort of rules pertaining to using numerals in user manuals, you will need to stick to them, otherwise, it is nothing but a waste of time for you and your team.

How do you make sure people stay consistent? For starters it is important to explain to the team the concept itself and what benefits this will give to the readers.

Perhaps, a lot of you are already applying these rules without paying too much attention - but it is always great to sort of draw a line and sum up ideas. The best approach is to ensure you have these rules written somewhere so the team can refer to them.

Be it a paragraph in a style guide or even a side note inside your documentation plan - it doesn’t matter. What matters is that it should be added to an up-to-date document all team members have access to.

Conclusion

Every smallest detail is important in building great reader experience. As numerals are such a big part of technical texts, they should be studied as well to understand how to approach them. We hope that you find our advice useful and make your docs even more consistent!

Good luck with your technical writing!
ClickHelp Team
Author, host and deliver documentation across platforms and devices

 

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