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In the following sentence I am using a combination of numbers and words in a sentence:

The greatest loss in accuracy for the method is between a rate of one and two hours where, on average, the accuracy of the method dropped from 2.5 to 7 days.

Is this correct?

I have to use 2.5 in the last part of the sentence as this wouldn't really work with two and a half. So, my question is: is the one and two OK as it is, or should it be written as 1 and 2?

  • 1
    One source says2. Spell small numbers out. The small numbers, such as whole numbers smaller than ten, should be spelled out.... If you don’t spell numbers out it will look like you’re sending an instant message, and you want to be more formal than that in your writing. 3. No other standard rule: Experts don’t always agree on other rules. Some experts say that any one-word number should be written out. Two-word numbers should be expressed in figures. That is, they say you should write out twelve or twenty. But not 24. – Edwin Ashworth Apr 30 '14 at 7:18
  • I'm only posting the above to show that this is a matter of style, not a set of required grammatical or spelling rules. I'd write your sentence exactly the way you've done, though some people might complain about inconsistency of format. I'd not bat an eyelid if I met the variant of the sentence using just numerals. You (or more likely, someone else) are always going to find some 'pseudo-rule' that's being broken hereabouts. PS I'd suggest '... for the method occurs for ...' – Edwin Ashworth Apr 30 '14 at 7:23
  • If this is scientific writing, then the usual style guidelines don't apply. Represent all numbers with Arabic numerals. – virmaior Apr 30 '14 at 7:30
  • @virmaior: do you have a reference for that rule? I certainly think any continuous measurements (e.g. 1 and 2 hours, or 2.5 to 7 days) should be represented in arabic numerals, but is this necessary with discrete quantities (three-dimensional, five separate trials, twenty amino acids)? – Peter Shor May 6 '14 at 12:12
  • @PeterShor There appears to be some disageement but counted numbers can be represented according to usual style rules (e.g. two ways of measuring) and measured numbers are represented exclusively with arabic numerals (4 joules) [See people.physics.illinois.edu/Celia/Lectures/Numbers.pdf] and web.mit.edu/course/21/21.guide/numbers.htm which calls itself the Mayfield style guide. (The latter spells out more precisely when) – virmaior May 6 '14 at 12:18
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Scientific writing does not follow the usual rules of style. There are some reasons for this, but basically it has to do with numbers as data. I have a BS in Chemistry and initially said this as a comment, but @PeterShor recommended turning it into an answer.

The basic rule for science writing is that counted numbers can be represented according to usual style rules (e.g. there are two ways of measuring of the energy in a projectile) and measured numbers are represented exclusively with Arabic numerals (We measured it at 4 joules).

Further examples:

There are three types of elements in relation to conduction (counted).
We found 3 isotopes in our sample.
We tested in four different ways and found the same density: 4.12 g/mL

Thus as science writing, your question's answer is:

1 and 2 hours, or 2.5 to 7 days

For more on this, see Writing Numbers in Technical Documents and The Mayfield Handbook of Technical & Scientific Writing. The latter spells out more precisely when and how numbers should be represented in scientific writing: the basic rule is to use Arabic numerals. A superseding rule (which I don't believe I followed as an undergraduate) is to write out a number which starts a sentence, but the preferred solution is to never start a sentence with a number.

Other rules to note: never display a number just a decimal and always maintain significant figures. (i.e. if you know it was 7.0 days, write 7.0 days rather than 7 days). Write 0.5 and not .5

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While I have my own personal preference (which is to spell all numbers out until it gets too complicated, such as in decimals and ratios), it really depends on the context.

I would write it thusly:

The greatest loss in accuracy for the method is between a rate of one and two hours where, on average, the accuracy of the method dropped from two and a half to seven days.

Were your numbers higher, though, I would write it thusly:

The greatest loss in accuracy for the method is between a rate of 14 and 15 hours where, on average, the accuracy of the method dropped from 12.5 to 17 days.

However, you may (as I once was) be writing for a company or within an institution with an internal style guide that states that all numbers from one to ten should be written in full and anything above that should be written in numeric form, regardless of the context.

Context has a lot to do with what you should be doing. Mathematics, science and economics documents, which would all be number-heavy, would probably prefer you to use all numbers (though I am no authority there, so you should check with your individual institution), but were you to write this sentence or something similar in plain prose, then most institutions would prefer it to be written out as in the first example above.

  • Not for scientific writing. See @virmaior's comment and his two referenced style tides. – Peter Shor May 6 '14 at 12:27

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