When your career background includes writing for a newspaper, the AP Stylebook becomes your best friend. Used by many journalists (not all, because many use the New York Times style), it can be difficult to accept any other form of writing (it certainly has been for me).
One of my greatest challenges today – years removed from writing for a newspaper – is learning to be tolerant of those who don’t use AP Style, even though the majority of those folks aren’t professional writers. Among my biggest pet peeves is the use of numbers for which AP stylebook has quite a few rules. Some of the top ones follow are explored here.
In general, you should spell out numbers one through nine and use numbers for 10 and above. There are, however, exceptions to that rule, which include:
- Addresses: 1 Bluefield Drive
- Ages (disregarding inanimate objects): The 6-year-old boy, the six-year-old business
- Cents: 5 cents
- Dollars: $9. NO period, NO zeroes ($9.00). (This one truly sticks in my craw)!
- Dates: September 2. Dates utilize cardinal numbers, not ordinal numbers (DO NOT use 2nd)
- Dimensions: 4 foot 11 or 8-by-9 room
- Highways: Route 4
- Millions, billions: 3 million, 6 billion
- Percentages: 2 percent (and it’s percent, not %)
- Speed: 5 mph
- Temperatures: 7 degrees
- Times: 3 p.m. This one is probably the one that tortures me the most. (I cannot stand to see times that include a colon and two zeroes, i.e. 4:00 p.m. Truly, it’s like nails on a blackboard to me).
- Spell out numbers at the beginning of a sentence: “Twelve thousand residents” not “12,000 residents. However, this does not apply to years: “2001 was a horrific year in American history.”
- In numbers higher than 999 (disregarding addresses and years), use commas to set off each group of three digits: 19,390.
- Use decimals (up to two places) for amounts in the millions and billions that don’t require a precise figure: $8.92 million.
- To make a number plural, add an “s” but no apostrophe: “He was experiencing the terrible 2s.” This also applies to decades: “It happened in the 1990s.” Only use an apostrophe if abbreviating the number: the ‘90s.
Listen, I understand that most people have no idea what AP style is, nor do they care. They write the way they write and they’re perfectly happy with that. But for somebody who had it pounded in their head for years that AP style was the only way to go if you wanted to be a respected newspaper writer, not following AP guidelines can cause severe indigestion. Even after a couple of decades after one’s newspaper career has gone the way of… well, a hard copy of an actual newspaper.
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