Using Numbers in Writing: Tips for Your Print Marketing
Writing is primarily thought of as a process involving letters and words, so when print marketers are tasked to write numbers and quantities, they might spell out the number (like “twelve” or “five percent”) instead of using a numeral (“12,” “5%”). The thought process is easy to understand–numerals are commonly associated with math and science, so many marketing writers may think they have no business in copywriting.
However, numerals can be a great boon to your business writing. When used correctly, they may actually attract 10-20% more readers than an article that uses only letters. Whether you’re writing for a catalog, brochure, sell sheet or other print media, it definitely helps to know how to use numbers to your advantage.
5 Reasons to write out numbers
They attract readers
Psychologically, people are naturally drawn to numerals more than words. They’re visually different from most text, so readers are much more likely to take notice of them. This works to your advantage when you want to draw attention to a particular element of your writing, such as a benefit customers will receive (“Buy 2, get 1 free!”). Numbers also represent facts, so they naturally attract people who are searching for concrete information.
Facts and statistics create authority
Cold, hard facts are almost always more effective than generalizations. McDonald’s doesn’t just say “We’ve served lots of people!” They spell it out for you: “Over 247 billion served.” If you can assign a specific number to your claims, your writing will come across as much more authoritative.
They make for faster reading
It takes a lot less time to read “525” than “five-hundred and twenty-five.” Fewer characters means that your writing will take up less space and be quicker to read, which ultimately means that your audience is more likely to read what you have to say. This is especially important for headlines, which are designed to get your reader interested with an extremely limited amount of writing.
They let readers know what to expect
When you write a headline using numerals (such as “10 Reasons to Choose Product X”), the audience knows exactly what to expect. Taking away the mystery of your content makes it easier to get the audience interested because they know they’re not going to be stuck reading a 20-page article. You have made a promise to deliver a certain amount of content and in turn, the audience knows that you won’t go on for too long (or that at least a few of the points listed will be relevant to what they’re looking for).
Numbered lists make your job easier
Not only are numbered bullet points a great way to make it easier for readers to skim your content, they also make it easier for you to write. A numbered list format allows you to split up a large topic into several digestible bites; simply create a basic numbered outline of the various elements you plan to write about and fill in the appropriate fields. This will also help to keep you from going overboard or off-topic with your writing; once you’ve reached the end of your list, you can rest knowing that you’ve said all you need to say.
7 Rules for writing numbers
Numbers are expressed two different ways in writing–with numerals and with full words. Using numerals means you’re writing symbols that represent numbers, such as “5” and “VI,” while writing out the number means spelling it out phonetically like “five” and “six.” There are a number of rules to follow when it comes to choosing between using numerals and writing the word out completely.
Spell out small and ordinal numbers
You have a few basic options to choose from when it comes to writing numbers or numerals throughout the body of your document. The AP style guide says that you should write out the full word for any number less than 10, such as “nine” and ‘”seven.” Other guides say you should spell out any number that is only one word long with no dashes, such as “eleven” or “thirty.” For everything else, use a numeral such as “45” or “22.”
You should also write out ordinal numbers (such as “first” or “twelfth”) as long as they are less than 100. Shorten them using numerals when they’re 100 or greater (for example, “152nd”).
No matter which method you choose, stay consistent with your copywriting throughout the entire print piece. You don’t want to see “11” and “eleven” in the same article. The same thing goes for listing different quantities of the same item. You wouldn’t write “Our company has two left-handed employees and 14 right-handed employees.” Instead, it would be “Our company has 2 left-handed employees and 14 right-handed employees” since the employees are the thing being counted.
Separate adjacent numbers
The only time it’s okay to break the consistency rule is when you have to write two numbers next to one another. In these cases, you want one of those numbers to be spelled out, with the other as a numeral. For example, “We ordered five 6-inch sandwiches” or “We have two 18-year-olds working for us.”
Never start a sentence with a numeral
It’s generally incorrect to start a sentence with a numeral. In these cases, you want to rearrange your copy so that the numeral isn’t at the very start of the sentence. For example, instead of “15 people attended our workshop last night,” you would write something like “Last night’s workshop was attended by 15 people.” This changes the sentence from an active to passive voice, but in this case it’s acceptable because it makes your copy easier to read.
Use commas properly
Commas are typically used to break up numbers that are four digits or longer. However, for business writing, the breaking off point for a comma begins at five digits instead. So, it would be appropriate to write “There were 3845 attendees at the festival and we sold 21,241 raffle tickets.”
Know the rules for decimals and fractions
There are specific rules you must follow when splitting up a number into decimals or fractions in your copy. Decimals always get a zero before the decimal unless the first number of the decimal is already zero. For example, you’d write “0.84” and “.024” instead of “.84” and “0.024” respectively. Fractions are always written out as words, such as “two-thirds” or “one-half.”
Writing big numbers
When a number is extremely big, you want to break it up into both letters and numerals. The cutting off point for this is usually in the hundred-thousand or million range. Rounding it off to an even number also works best for big numbers. For example: “Our company sold over 40 million units last year.”
Psychological pricing and number strategies
The psychology of pricing means that the prices you advertise in your copy (and the strategy you use to write them) will have an effect on attracting consumers. According to research by economist Kaushik Basu, when consumers read a price from left to right, they tend to mentally replace the last two digits of the price with an estimate, which means they pay more attention to what’s on the left side of the decimal point.
Therefore, it’s better to say “Get a Haircut for just $14.99” than “Get a Haircut for $15” even though it’s only a one cent difference. Though the price is closer to “$15,” the consumer will see it as “$14 and some change.”
If you can’t price your product with an odd number, try using a range of different prices when possible. The consumer will automatically focus on the lowest price bracket. For example, “Rent one of our luxurious apartments from just $450-$900 a month.” Even if the $450 apartment is a one-room economy unit and everything else in the complex is at $900 a month, people will automatically gravitate towards the lower price.
According to psychological pricing, the amount of space that your price takes up on the page will also affect the consumer. For example, “Get $100.00 Back” seems like a better offer than “Get $100 Back” because adding the cents onto the end makes it look like a larger amount. On the flipside, if you want a dollar amount to look inexpensive, drop the cents on the end. For example, “Now Only $100” is better than “Now Only $100.00,” but “Now Only $99.99” is best.
5 Tips for writing numbers in headlines
Writing headlines with numbers is a completely different beast than general copywriting with numbers, with a completely set of rules to follow. In fact, some of the rules for writing numbers in copy are completely thrown out the window when it comes to writing headlines since the objectives for both are slightly different. Your copy should be informative, while your headlines need to get readers interested in your copy.
Only use numerals
With headlines, you don’t have to worry about figuring out when to write numerals and when to spell out the numbers–you always use a numeral. This is because numerals are shorter, easier to read and are more attention grabbing. So your headline should read “Our 10 Objectives” and never “Our Ten Objectives.”
Small numbers are better than large
In the same way that using a numeral is better than a word because it’s shorter and easier to quickly interpret, shorter numerals are preferable to longer ones. Your audience is more likely to read “Your Top 5 Security Investments for the Biggest Return” than “Your Top 60 Security Investments for the Biggest Return.” Whenever possible, try to boil down the points in your lists to around 10 items so that you can use smaller numerals in your headlines.
Odd numbers are better than even
When adding numerals to a headline, odd numbers seem to connect better with readers over even numbers. This is because odd numbers are seen as more authentic than even numbers. It makes sense–anyone can have a top 10 list, but if you’re offering a top 11 list, it makes it seem like you let the content decide how long the article would be (not the other way around). A top 10 article looks like it’s trying to fit a mold; a top 11 article isn’t afraid to break the mold if it means being more informative.
It’s okay to start headlines with numerals
Unlike your general copywriting, it’s perfectly okay to start your headlines with numerals–in fact, in some cases it’s more effective. That’s because it lets the audience know early on what to expect in terms of structure and it keeps your headlines using an active voice. Therefore, a heading like “5 Strategies for Reaching Our Target Audience” is better than “Reach Your Target Audience With These 5 Strategies.”
Pair numbers with adjectives
Numerals are strong in headlines, but they can always use a little bit of a boost to get your audience’s attention. It’s one thing to say you have “7 Gifts for the Holidays” and another to say you have “7 Inexpensive Gifts for the Holidays.” In the second example, adding an adjective gives your number a more specific value that appeals to your reader (7 different ways to save money) and ultimately gives them more information about what to expect.
Remember that there are always certain cases where using a numeral isn’t preferable. If there are parts of your writing that you don’t want to attract attention (medical disclaimers, for example), it might be best to spell out the numbers in that section.
Using numbers and numerals can make your copy and headlines more powerful and attention-grabbing. Just make sure to only write with them when it works to your advantage.
Posted in Copywriting