Today I wrote the sentence:

The supplied definition defines 24 16-bit words per subframe, and ...

I know the recipient will understand the terminology. I'm concerned about writing the phrase "24 16-bit words". It almost reads as "2416-bit words". The only alternative I can think of is wordy and flows poorly:

The supplied definition defines 24 words per subframe, each 16 bits wide, and ...

I'm of the mind that "sixteen-bit" is not immediately recognisable, and expressing a quantity, especially of 10 or more, is generally best done in numerals. Is this the best way to write it or is there a better alternative?

  • 1
    In informal techinal writing I would just put 24x16-bit. However I think writing one of the numbers out as words is the clearest and most correct solution. The "bigger than ten" thing is only a guideline. Jan 20 '12 at 6:23
  • 3
    The sentence is fine as it stands. By linking the 16 to the bit with a hyphen, you have demonstrated what is connected to what, and forever subordinated the 24 to its correct status as a counter for words. 24-bit is a compound adjective that also modifies words. Be not afraid to leave it as is.
    – Robusto
    Jan 20 '12 at 12:23

It seems fine as written because of the technical context. Using the term 'word' for 2416 bits would be highly unexpected while a 16-bit word is commonplace.


I'd go with writing one of the numbers out in words:

The supplied definition defines twenty-four 16-bit words per subframe, and ...

Although it's a little clumsy, since numbers like 24 aren't usually written as words, it does help avoid the 2416-bit problem, and I find it easier to read than the alternative you provided.


I agree with user17237 that you should write out one of the words, but I'd go the other way:

The supplied definition defines 24 sixteen-bit words ...

Or, if you don't mind a change of unit,

The supplied definition defines 24 two-byte words ...

(It would be nice if you could break up "definition defines" somehow too; perhaps something like lays out could replace defines.)

Edit: As another alternative to placate the naysayers, perhaps

... defines 24 (16-bit) words ...

would suffice, since the most common bitsize of a word is 16 bits, and you're just reminding them of it?

  • While "two-byte words" sounds better, I refer to "12-bit words" a lot more often than "16-bit words", and "one-and-a-half-byte words" is starting to sound like imperial measurements. :-) BTW, I don't know where all the downvotes are coming from. T'wasn't I. Jan 20 '12 at 5:57
  • And I should change it to "The supplied definition specifies". Thanks! Jan 20 '12 at 5:57
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    If this is for a technical audience, spelling out 16 or, worse, replacing it with two-byte will impede understanding. They'll get it, but you're making them work harder for it, which good technical writing should not do. Jan 20 '12 at 15:50

The supplied definition defines 24 pieces of 16-bit words per subframe , and ...


Your alternative a bit shorter:

The supplied definition defines 24 words per subframe, 16-bit each.

But "definition defines" is not good, saying the same thing twice. Maybe better:

The supplied definition of 24 words per subframe, 16-bit each, corresponds [to something]

Or some other verb — you can avoid the final "and".

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