Common Mistakes in Papers for Publication Part 5 – Numbers (3)
This is the third and final post on numbers (see below for links to the previous two posts).
Whether to write numbers as figures or words, put abbreviations before or after them, or leave spaces between symbols preceding or following them is all far more complicated than we might at first imagine.
It’s also easy to get confused as style-guide rules and recommendations can differ and many non-native speakers writing or translating into English simply copy usage in their own language, which is often not correct. As a translator and editor, I’ve written these posts on numbers to highlight errors I’ve come across in my work and also to clear my own confusion between source usage and UK and US English preferences.
1. For ranges, numbers should be linked with an en rule (called an en dash in Chicago) and not an em rule (em dash in Chicago) or a hyphen.
On my keyboard, I write an en rule by pressing Ctrl and the hyphen/minus sign on the number pad. You can also press Alt and 0150.
2. Figures are generally used with units of measurement. And there is a space between the number and the abbreviation of the unit.
25 m and not 25m
67 kg and not 67kg
903 l and not 903l
3. According to both Oxford and Chicago, figures should be used with percentages as they’re a unit of measurement (unless appearing at the beginning of a sentence).
In nontechnical texts we should avoid using the symbol % and instead write per cent (UK English) or percent (US English).
Chicago categorically states that there’s no space between the number and the percentage sign while Oxford acknowledges that while common usage dictates no space, this contradicts the international system of units (SI).
35%–40% (note use of en rule) is based on the general rule of repeating the unit symbol if there is no space between it and the number.
While I haven’t found a specific mention of writing such a range in SI guidelines, 35–40 % follows the general rule of not repeating the unit symbol if there is a space between the symbol and the number.
4. On the subject of spaces, mathematical symbols need a space on either side. According to Oxford, this can be a word space or a thin space. And according to Chicago, it’s a medium space (same as a word space).
16 x 2 = 32 and not 16×2=32
15 > 5 and not 15>5
8 / 2 = 4 and not 8/2=4
However, if the symbol is modifying the value, i.e. used as an adjective, there is no space.
a difference of +5
a difference of + 5
magnification x 10
See here for more horizontal spaces and their unicodes.
5. Footnote numbers. Although footnotes are usually placed at the end of a sentence (thus distracting readers less), they can also be put after a clause. The number appears after quotation marks, full points and all other closing punctuation, but before dashes. They are only placed before a closing parenthesis if the footnote only refers to the content placed within the parentheses.
At a time when just doing your job properly can make you stand out, it’s particularly galling to see articles on LinkedIn telling translators that quality isn’t important, not to make any comments on translations as that slows you down, to take on as many jobs as possible and skip a final reading because details don’t matter.¹
“Well,” she replied, “in theory, yes. But I forgot to actually write it down on your order form and you didn’t notice.”²
I was incredibly busy greeting people, many I hadn’t seen for a while, and trying to find something to eat (remember those incorrect canapés?³) and honestly didn’t fully twig until I’d calmed down later.
(In case you’re interested, all the quotes come from When Things Go Wrong)