Most well-known style guides dictate that numbers should always be spelled out at the beginning of a sentence (Forty-seven percent of people...), even to the point of recommending rewriting to avoid spelling out awkwardly large numbers (In all, 5,260 people...).

I have a bulleted list of percentages in which I would really like to start all of the list items with numerals:

  • 12 percent of messages...
  • 50 percent of messages...
  • 19 percent of messages...
  • 4 percent of messages...

Spelling all the numbers out would significantly harm readability. Rewriting to put the numbers later would also harm readability, in addition to appearing contrived. I've checked my Chicago Manual of Style, but it doesn't seem to address this particular situation, or at least I haven't been able to find it.

Are there any commonly accepted sources that offer guidance on this point, or is it just too rare to have come up?

  • 1
    This is a good question, but unfortunately you won't get any satisfaction from Chicago on this point. Chicago offers only two guidelines: a sweeping endorsement of spelling out numbers at the beginning of a sentence (and I gather that each bulleted entry in your list is a complete sentence of the type "2 percent of messages are X"), and advice to rearrange the wording if you can't stand the spelled-out arrangement. There's no flexibility in the rule "When a number begins sentence it is always spelled out." I'll check some other style guides, but they are unlikely to help much.
    – Sven Yargs
    Commented Jan 23, 2019 at 20:00
  • 1
    Are you trying to convince an editor that your style is acceptable? That is to say, if you think it's more readable with numbers, why not just use numbers?
    – Juhasz
    Commented Jan 23, 2019 at 21:21
  • Don't use a list. Instead, use a table. Table columns and rows are often expected to contain numbers. And if you're presenting this kind of repetitive information, it will be more easily understood in a table format anyway. Repeating percent of messages many times is awkward. Tables are designed to solve this issue. Commented Jan 24, 2019 at 18:51

1 Answer 1


The rules for bullets don't always follow the rules for sentences. Your bullets are correctly written in my view.

Even Chicago wouldn't expect a recipe book to list ingredients as follows:

  • three and a half cups sugar
  • one hundred and fifty grams cocoa
  • one eighth of a teaspoon salt

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