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Sixty-Four Thousand Dollar ($64,000) Question

Here is the sixty-four thousand dollar ($64,000) question: Why do we repeat numbers?

I am talking about these redundancies:

within seven (7) days
fourteen dollars and seven cents ($14.07)
a waiting period of sixty (60) days

Answer: Because we have always done it that way!

Despite how we have always done it, there is only ONE situation in which it makes sense to render a number in both words and figures: when writing a check. On a check, we include a spelled out version of the amount to reduce the likelihood that anyone will misread the number or alter it.

We don’t need to restate a number in a typed business letter, memo, email, report, or even a contract.

You may be hesitant to stop writing numbers in both figures and words in your contracts. To encourage you to stop, I cite expert Bryan A. Garner, editor of Black’s Law Dictionary. In his book Legal Writing in Plain English: A Text With Exercises, Garner (who refers to the redundant numbers as "word-numeral doublets") states:

"There’s no good reason why modern briefs, judicial opinions, statutes, or contracts should contain doublets."

He provides this example of what not to do:

"The parties have agreed that for purposes of this Agreement, the current fair market value of the Property is Three Hundred Eighty-Nine Thousand Six Hundred Sixty-Seven and 00/100 dollars ($389.667.00)."

He replaces that bloated sentence with this concise wording:

"For purposes of this Agreement, the current fair market value of the Property is $389.667."

One argument often given for the doubled numbers is that they prevent discrepancies. But Garner refutes that reasoning:

" . . . discrepancies aren’t possible unless you write it twice."

Then why do so many people write numbers in words and figures? According to Garner, the use of "doublets" came about centuries ago to prevent number altering. And in the modern age, with the widespread use of carbon paper, numbers written in words were easier to decipher on carbon copies.

I hope you are convinced: These days it is unnecessary and downright silly to render a number two (2) different ways.

NOTE: The $64,000 Question was a television show in the US in the late 1950s. The name was written in figures–never spelled out!

For rules on writing numbers, see this post.

Lynn

Posted by Lynn Gaertner Johnson
By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English. She grew up in suburban Chicago, Illinois.

7 comments on “Sixty-Four Thousand Dollar ($64,000) Question”

  • I can answer that. Yes, historically it has always been done but THE OTHER WAY ROUND! I have always worked for law firms and they use the figures, eg, ¬£1,291,235 then express it in words just in case someone mistyped the figure – eg if that had in brackets after it “one million, two hundred and ninety two thousand, two hundred and thirty five thousand pounds” you would be able to tell quite easily that there was PROBABLY a typing error in the numeric figure. Of course, you could always argue “why don’t they just type the words then” but words aren’t as easy to read at-a-glance as figures are. So the words are just for confirmation.

  • Hello, Nedbrab. I am guessing that my description being the “other way round” is because of a difference between the British and U.S. way of writing numbers. What do you think?

    Thank you for commenting.

  • Lyn:
    I am also of the opinion that information should be minimally represented.

    When it comes to write about money or digits that are essentially important for us, it does make sense to use both figures and words. It is true that while we may write figures incorrectly, we will never be misinterpretted despite making a mistake in spelling the words. If at all, we have to select one out of the two media, we should select ‘word’ for aforesaid reasons.

    Thank you!
    Dr NK Ranjan

  • I read legal documents every day – my time is precious as is everyones’ – and I hate having the flow interrupted by saying something again in a new and unnecessary way. The use of digits and words to repeat numerical information is straight out of the Department of Redundancy Department.

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