How to Format Numbers in MLA

Numbers play a crucial role in academic writing, providing clarity and precision to your arguments. In the MLA style, the formatting of numbers follows specific guidelines to ensure consistency and readability throughout your paper. Whether you’re writing a research paper, essay, or any other scholarly work, adhering to MLA conventions for number formatting is essential. In this article, we’ll break down the rules for formatting numbers in MLA style, keeping it simple and easy to understand.

  • Spell Out Numbers in Certain Cases: Numbers which can be written in one or two words should be spelled out. For instance, you would write four, eighteen, ninety-five, three million, or seven billion. This rule applies to most common numbers encountered in everyday writing.
  • Use Numerals for Other Numbers: Numerals should be used for numbers that are not easily expressed in words. Examples include 2¾, 712, 5,037, and 48,000,000. Numerals are particularly appropriate for figures such as measurements, statistics, and precise quantities.
  • Application in Scientific Writing: In scientific writing, it is common to use numerals for various types of data, regardless of their size. This includes units of measurement, statistical expressions, and numerical data in tables and figures. When writing in scientific fields, follow the conventions of your specific discipline while maintaining MLA style guidelines for other aspects of your paper.
  • Formatting Number Ranges: When indicating ranges of numbers, MLA style provides specific instructions. For numbers up to 99, include the entire second number. For example, write 3-17, 65-69, and 85-99. However, for larger numbers, use only the last two digits of the second number. For instance, 111-15, 2,937-46, and 4,587-765.
  • Special Rules for Year Ranges: MLA style has rules for formatting ranges of years, particularly those beginning in 1000 AD. If the first two digits of both years are the same, include only the last two digits of the second year. For instance, write 1965-99 and 2003-08. However, if the first two digits differ, fully write out both years. For example, 1765-1808 and 1985-2024.

Review and Revise: After completing your draft, take the time to review and revise your use of numbers in accordance with MLA style. Pay attention to number ranges, years, and any special cases that may require specific formatting. A thorough review ensures that your document adheres to MLA guidelines and maintains professionalism throughout.

Consider Cultural or Field-Specific Conventions: Depending on your field of study or cultural context, there may be specific conventions or preferences regarding number formatting. Be mindful of any field-specific guidelines or cultural norms that may influence how numbers are formatted in your writing. Adapting to these conventions can enhance the professionalism and credibility of your work within your academic community.

Maintain Readability in Tables and Figures: When presenting numerical data in tables, figures, or charts within your document, ensure that the formatting remains clear and consistent. Use numerals for all numerical values, including those within tables and figures, to maintain readability and consistency across different sections of your paper.

To sum up, understanding MLA style’s number formatting is crucial for creating scholarly writing that maintains clarity and uniformity. By adhering to the guidelines provided, you guarantee that your numbers are showcased professionally and are easy for readers to comprehend. Whether you’re indicating quantities, outlining ranges, or referencing statistical information, sticking to MLA conventions will elevate the overall excellence of your academic writing.


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Tomas Elliott (Ph.D.)

Tomas Elliott is an assistant Professor of English at Northeastern University London. His research specialisms include the history of theatre and film, European modernism, world literature, film adaptation, transmedia studies and citation practices. He read English and French Literature at Trinity College, Oxford, before completing a PhD in Comparative Literature and Literary Theory at the University of Pennsylvania.

Learn how to cite in MLA