Numbers In Academic Writing – APA Style Guidelines

01.01.23 Academic writing Time to read: 4min

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Numbers-in-academic-writing-Definition

Numbers are an imperative part of academic writing, serving as vital tools to represent quantitative data, statistical data, or measures in an accurate and precise manner. Numbers are used across various fields, including sciences, humanities, and business. However, adherence to specific rules is necessary in terms of using numbers effectively in academia, which vary depending on the style guide followed. This article will provide insights into how numbers are used appropriately.

Numbers in Academic Writing – In a Nutshell

  • Academic writing uses numbers in distinct ways depending on style guide.
  • Conventions apply to technical number writing and non-technical number writing.
  • Numbers are usually written out from one to nine, and numerals are used from 10.
  • Technical data and statistics should always appear as numerals for reference.

Definition: Numbers in academic writing

The APA Style is one of the most widely used academic writing styles and is largely adopted by the behavioural and social sciences. A number can be written both numerically or in words within this style.

Typically, a number from one to nine should be written out as words, while numbers from 10 and above should be written out numerically. This general rule also applies to ordinals (first, 10th). Some exceptions do apply, as found next in this article.

Other writing styles utilize different number rules. The Chicago style, for instance, requires numbers to be written out as words up to 100. The MLA style spells out all numbers that can be written within one or two words (three, one hundred, etc.).

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Numbers in academic writing: Exceptions

Exceptions to the general rule above apply in the following cases:

1. All numbers should be represented numerically when they are detailing an exact unit of measurement.

Example

  • The rock was chiseled 6 cm deep.

2. Write out numerals as words when they begin a sentence, except when dealing with specific years.

Example

  • Eighteenth-century scientists advanced the practice of medicine
  • 1921 marked the discovery of insulin.

3. A number should be written out when dealing with fractions, set expressions, or other known numeric titles.

Example

  • John Milton crafted the poem in 1626, also referred to as the Fifth of November poem.
  • According to sources, one-third of the English population perished from the Black Death.
  • Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four is set in an alternative world in the year 1984.

Numbers in academic writing: Percentages

When dealing with percentages in the APA Style, use numerals followed by the percent sign %, instead of “percent” or the abbreviations, “pct.”, “pct,”, or “pc”.

Example

  • The Spanish flu affected over 25% of the US population.

The same rule when beginning sentences with numerals applies to percentages, i.e., they should be written out as words when they start a sentence.

Example

  • Twenty-five percent of the US population was affected.

Numbers in academic writing: Statistical results

Reporting statistics in APA and papers that deal with technical numerical language in qualitative research have their own rules.

Here, all data is written in numerals to remain consistent and easily digested. This applies to the main body, tables, and figures sections of a paper.

Other statistical conventions include:

  • Report the majority of statistics to two decimal places.
  • Report statistics that can’t exceed 1.0 to three decimal places.
  • For values that could exceed 1.0, use a leading zero. Those that can’t exceed 1.0 do not feature a leading zero.
  • Italicize statistical values that aren’t Greek letters. E.g. SD.
  • Spaces should be left before and after equal, more-than, and less-than signs.

Numbers in academic writing: Measurements

Always use numerals for units of measurement.

Example

  • Ampules contain 100 mg in 2 ml.

Numerals should be used for precise ages, timescales, dates, score lines, points of scale, and monetary sums.

Examples

  • The final score was France 4, and Croatia 2.
  • The students were aged 18 to 21 years in the study.

Imprecise ages and generalizations are not numbered but written out.

Examples

  • She was roughly six years old based on his estimation.
  • The outcome will be approximately seven times.
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Numbers in academic writing: Long numbers

Longer numbers have their own set of rules. A period should be used to indicate a decimal point.

Commas are to be used to separate large figures every three digits after 1,000.

For sums exceeding 6 numerals, like 1 million and 1 noteion, use a combination of numerals and written language.

Examples

  • HBO Max had 73.8 million subscribers in 2022.
  • This is a considerable growth from its 800,000 subscribers in 2015.

FAQs

As a general rule of thumb, numbers up to nine should be written out in the APA Style, while anything exceeding 10 should appear as numerals.

Dates are always written as numerals.

They are written out when they begin a sentence, except for dates and technical data.

The APA Style states that the symbol “%” should be used after numerals, while “percent” should be used for written-out figures.