Style Guidelines Can Make a Difference – Part 3 – Numbers, Dates, Punctuation, Abbreviations, and Acronyms, Oh My!


*This article is part of a series. Read PART 1 – Setting the Stage: Some General Rules for Prospective Authors and PART 2 – Digging Deep: Specific Style Guidelines.

Parentheses and Brackets.

When the Parenthetical Statement is a Sentence Fragment.  Punctuation, such as periods and commas, goes outside the parentheses when the parenthetical statement is a fragment within a sentence.  Example:  Our footnote style conforms to A Uniform System of Citation (Twentieth Edition).

When the Parenthetical Statement is a Complete Statement.  When the parenthetical statement is a complete statement and not part of another sentence, the punctuation goes inside the parentheses.  Example:  For questions about the rules of grammar or punctuation, refer to the Chicago Manual of Style.  The New York Times Style Manual is also an excellent resource.

Brackets.   Unlike parentheses, which often enclose a parenthetical statement by the author, brackets generally refer to notations made by others, such as the editor or publisher, often to explain or clarify within quoted material.  Example:  Four score and seven years [87] years ago.

Punctuation Placement.

Punctuation with Quotation Marks.  Periods and commas almost always go inside quotation marks. Colons and semicolons always go outside the quotation marks.  Question marks and exclamation points are placed outside quotation marks unless they are part of the quoted statement.  Example:  The insurance company asked the insured client to answer by circling “agree,” “disagree,” or “not sure.”

Punctuation with Parentheses and Brackets.  Commas, colons, and semicolons are always placed outside parentheses and brackets.  Periods, question marks, and exclamation points are placed outside parentheses and brackets unless they are part of the enclosed statement.  Note: brackets enclosing citations usually are not followed by periods, unless the citation is used to support one proposition in a compound sentence that includes other citations.  Example:  A witness who is under investigation and may well become a defendant is not entitled to a warning that she is a “potential defendant” when called to testify before a grand jury. [United States v. Washington, 431 U.S. 181 (1977)]  Compare:  a grand jury may base its indictment on evidence that would not be admissible at trial [Costello v. United States, 350 U.S. 359].


Names of Books, Magazines, and Newspapers.  The titles of publications, including books, magazines and newspapers, are in italics:  Examples:  The Supreme Court and its Justices (book)  Time (magazine)  The Washington Post (newspaper)

Exception:  When the body text is in italics, titles of books, magazines, and newspapers should be in roman.  Example:  The recent book on Benjamin Cardozo received excellent reviews in the New York State Bar Journal.  Note:  You can also use italics to emphasize a word or phrase in the text.

Apostrophes.  Possessive or Singular Nouns.  Add an apostrophe and an s to form the possessive of singular nouns, both common and proper, including those ending in –s, -x, and z.  Example:  Jones’s, executrix’s

Nouns  Ending in Double S:  When a noun ends in a double, add an apostrophe only.  Example: witness’   However, there are exceptions to the rules when adding an extra s would result in pronunciation difficulties.   In such event, add only an apostrophe only.  Example:  New Orleans’ bar association will have its annual meeting next month.

Plural Nouns Ending in S.  When a plural noun ends in s, its possessive takes an. Apostrophe only.  Examples: legislators’ bills, cats’ tails.

Plural Nouns Not Ending in S.  When a plural noun does not end in s, it takes an apostrophe and an s.


Use bullets to highlight items in a list, unless the list is long, in which case, use numbers.  Do not use punctuation after individual items in bulleted lists, including the last item, unless each item is a complete sentence.

Numbers and Dates

Generally, numbers from zero to nine should be spelled out; for numbers 10 and greater, use regular arabic numbers.  Numbers in headings should almost always be spelled out, as should any number that starts a sentence (e.g, “Twenty proofreaders have checked this text.”)  All percentages should use arabic numerals with the percent sign.  Ordinals above tenth (e.g, 11th, 12th) should be done as in the parenthetical example in this paragraph.

Using Figures. Figures rather than spelled-out numbers should be used under the following circumstances.  Time: when followed by a.m. or p.m.  Examples:  9:45 a.m.; 5 p.m.; 12 noon; 12 midnight

Dates. for years and days.  Examples: October 31. 1999; May 15, 2000; 1930s (not 1930’s)

People’s Ages.  Examples:  7-year-old girl; 34 years old; age 65 and older

Quantities and Measurements.  Examples: 7 meters; about 10 yards; 3 gallons; 30-day notice; an 8-hour day

Book Units.  pages numbers, chapters, etc.   Examples: Section 7; Chapter 23; page 235

Numbers.  when followed by million or billion.  Example: 8 million

Using Words.  Infinite amounts in round numbers.  Examples: about twenty thousand;  less than eleven hundred feet

Common fractions.  Examples:  one-third empty; two-and-one-half session; one-inch margins.

In expressions similar to the following.  Examples:  Fourteenth Amendment; Eighty-seventh Congress; twentieth century; Forty-second Street.

Abbreviations and Acronyms

Unlike citations, abbreviations are not favored in text, as they slow down the readers and may not be understood.  See the latest edition of Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary for a comprehensive list of abbreviations.

Note.  If you intend to use an abbreviation or acronym in the first reference, spell it out, followed by the abbreviation or acronym in parentheses. In later references, you may use the abbreviation or acronym only.  Example: The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) regulates the workplace environment.

Use of Periods

Some abbreviations, such as academic degrees take periods between the letters; others, including abbreviations of federal agencies do not.  Examples: J.D.; Ph.D.  But CPA; CIA. Also note: UN (United Nations)  But: U.S. United States).  Acronyms do not take periods. Example: USIA

That vs. Which

That is a defining (or restrictive) pronoun (i.e., it tells me which one). Which is a nondefining (nonrestrictive) pronoun (i.e., it adds a fact to the sentence).  Which is often misused for that.   Examples:   The car that is red is on my left. (Tells which car)  The car, which is red, is on my left. (Adds a fact about the car in question.)

Winding Up

From a personal standpoint, it is exasperating how  many times, I note problems in use of the following set for words.  In essence, principle is often wrongly substituted for principal—and vice versa.  Same with complement wrongly used in place of compliment—also vice versa.

As an aside, it is common practice to double-space between sentences.  Finally, for those who haven’t yet taken the plunge, go for it.  Let your voice be heard—in writing as well as orally.  Good luck!

All opinions, advice, and experiences of guest bloggers/columnists are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions, practices or experiences of Solo Practice University®.

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