By David Becker
So far we have covered the general differences between MLA and APA styles and reviewed how their rules differ when creating in-text citations and reference list entries. However, a reader asked that we cover another difference between the two styles: how they present numbers, particularly ranges of numbers. I’m happy to oblige!
The two styles have very different rules for when to write numbers as words or numerals. MLA Style spells out numbers that can be written in one or two words (three, fifteen, seventy-six, one thousand, twelve billion) and to use numerals for other numbers (2¾; 584; 1,001; 25,000,000). APA Style, on the other hand, generally uses words for numbers below 10 and numerals for numbers 10 and above.
However, the MLA Handbook further notes that science writers frequently use numerals for various kinds of data, such as units of measurement and statistical expressions, regardless of size. This is similar to APA Style’s rules for presenting numerical data (see pages 111–114 in the Publication Manual for more detail).
In ranges of numbers, MLA Style includes the entire second number for numbers up to 99 (1-12; 25-29; 75-99) but uses only the last two digits of the second number for larger numbers, unless more are needed (95-105; 105-19; 2,104-08; 5,362-451). Ranges of years beginning in 1000 AD have their own rules: If the first two digits of both years are the same, include only the last two digits of the second year (1955-85; 2004-09). Otherwise, both numbers should be fully written out (1887-1913; 1998-2008).
APA Style does not have explicit rules for ranges of numbers, except for when referring to a page range or a range of dates in a reference list entry. Numerous examples in Chapter 7 of the Publication Manual show both numbers in a page range being written out in full, regardless of size, and example 23 on page 204 demonstrates the same concept applied to a range of years. These rules relate to APA Style’s emphasis on the importance of specificity and clarity in scientific writing. Thus, a range of numbers (10–40; 101–109; 5,000–5,025; 90,013–90,157) or dates (1999–2003; 2009–2012) should never be abbreviated.
I hope that this post will help those of you transitioning from MLA Style to APA Style the next time you need to include numbers in your research papers. Be sure to also check out our series of posts on numbers and metrication and our FAQ page on when to express numbers as words. If there’s still some residual confusion about numbers or any other difference between the two styles, please comment on this post, drop us a note on Twitter or Facebook, or contact us directly. Your question may be the subject of a future post!
This section discusses numbers, how to write them correctly, and when to use numerical expressions instead.
Contributors: Chris Berry
Last Edited: 2018-02-07 03:40:58
Although usage varies, most people spell out numbers that can be expressed in one or two words and use figures for numbers that are three or more words long. Note: If you are using a specific citation style, such as MLA or APA, consult the style manual for specific formatting instructions.
over two pounds
six million dollars
after thirty-one years
after 126 days
Here are some examples of specific situations:
Days and Years
December 12, 1965 or 12 December 1965
in 1971-72 or in 1971-1972
the eighties, the twentieth century
the 1980's or the 1980s
Time of Day
8:00 A.M. (or) a.m. (or) eight o'clock in the morning
4:30 P.M. (or) p.m. (or) half-past four in the afternoon
16 Tenth Street
350 West 114 Street
Page and Division of Books and Plays
in act 3, scene 2 (or) in Act III, Scene ii
Decimals and Percentages
a 2.7 average
13.25 percent (in nonscientific contexts)
25% (in scientific contexts)
.037 metric ton
Large Round Numbers
four billion dollars (or) $4 billion
16,500,000 (or) 16.5 million
Notes on Usage
Repeat numbers in commercial writing.
The bill will not exceed one hundred (100) dollars.
Use numerals in legal writing.
The cost of damage is $1,365.42.
Numbers in series and statistics should be consistent.
two apples, six oranges, and three bananas
NOT: two apples, 6 oranges, and 3 bananas
115 feet by 90 feet (or) 115' x 90'
scores of 25-6 (or) scores of 25 to 6
The vote was 9 in favor and 5 opposed
Write out numbers beginning sentences.
Six percent of the group failed.
NOT: 6% of the group failed.
Use a combination of figures and words for numbers when such a combination will keep your writing clear.
Unclear: The club celebrated the birthdays of 6 90-year-olds who were born in the city. (may cause the reader to read '690' as one number.)
Clearer: The club celebrated the birthdays of six 90-year-olds who were born in the city.