Proper Manuscript Formatting

My 2¢ (two cents?) on spelling out numbers in text

The question of when and how to use numerals in your manuscript is a complicated one, no two ways about it. Here are some simple guidelines.

William Shunn
4 min readMay 12, 2023


Silhouette of a person walking in front of a wall of numbers spelled out in glowing blue neon.
Photo by Ilnur Kalimullin on Unsplash

A reader writes to ask:

I was searching through your site, as I often do when I want an opinion on formatting, and I did not see info for numbers, specifically whether to spell out or use numerals in the body of the text. It seems like numbers should be spelled out unless they’re part of something that we just really, really anticipate the use of numerals — like time, money, addresses, phone numbers or years. Do you have a list of what editors want in numerals, as well as any other insight into this topic?

The question of how to render numbers in text is complicated. When it comes to the finer details, you’ll probably find as many different opinions as there are editors. Still, with the ultimate goal of making your text as readable as possible, here are some points on which most sources agree.

Small and Large Numbers

In narrative text, you should generally spell out small numbers but use numerals for larger numbers. The Chicago Manual of



William Shunn

Writer, poet and puzzle maker. Hugo and Nebula Award finalist. Author of The Accidental Terrorist: Confessions of a Reluctant Missionary. He/him/Bill.