Numbers – to use or not to use?

Tip of the DayDoes “4/1/14” refer to “April 1, 2014” or “January 4, 2014”? If you’re not sure, readers of your public legal education (PLE) materials won’t be either.

Even readers with good language skills can have low numeracy. Numeracy refers to our ability to understand numbers and do basic math. Also, the example above shows that even when numeracy is not an issue, numbers can sometimes be confusing.

Here are some tips to help you decide how to use numbers in your PLE materials:

  • Use digits rather than spelling out numbers. Digits are usually much easier to read and remember than spelling out numbers. Reading numbers that are spelled out, like twenty-five, is much harder than simply 25.
  • Watch how you write out dates. Numbered date formats are not always clear because some people use day/month/year and others use month/day/year. Avoid confusion – write out the month and use numbers for the day and year.
  • Present numbers visually. Consider presenting information that has a lot of numbers by using a visual element. People find it easier to pick out what applies to them when they see it in a table or chart.

See CLEO’s Better Legal Information Handbook for more information on clear language writing tips.

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