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My organization produces technical reports and bases their style on Associated Press (AP) style. In one of these reports, I have a list like so:

Topics with permission:

  • Publish — 3 topics
  • Subscribe — 2 topics
  • Receive — 2 topics
  • AddPermission — 5 topics

My editor is telling me I must spell out the numbers, IE "three topics", instead of "3 topics" but looking at the style guide, I am not so sure. The Associated Press Stylebook 2019 states the following, with my emphasis added in bold:

numerals

In general, spell out one through nine: The Yankees finished second. He had nine months to go.

Use figures for 10 or above and whenever preceding a unit of measure or referring to ages of people, animals, events or things. Also in all tabular matter, and in statistical and sequential forms.

This seems to me to be tabular matter, but the style book doesn't really define what that is. When do I spell out numbers in bulleted lists? Is it true that I must spell it out for all numbers less than ten? What if the list includes some numbers greater than 10, and some between zero and 10.

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Ultimately this relies on the definition of tabular matter (or rather table).

And I’d say the definition is pretty simple: tables have rows and columns (and content is therefore arranged in a grid). What you have does not have columns so it’s not a table. (Also a table would probably abstract out the word “topics” and put it in the table head.)

If it bothers you, see if you have any better alternatives. (Rewording? I’m not so familiar with AP so I can’t really help here.)

For perspective it may be helpful to read about APA Style:

Both of these links show that it’s pretty common that style guides would have you mix number forms, so it’s not so unusual that AP would have you do so. (Although it also shows that you’re not alone in not wanting to have a mix!)

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  • Is this APA style, or AP style? I understand those to be two distinct things: American Psychological Association style and Associated Press style, respectively. I updated my post to be clear my org uses AP style. – Anthony Lozano May 3 at 3:18
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    @AnthonyLozano Well I wrote this with AP in mind but I referenced APA for perspective although that wasn’t perhaps so clear – Laurel May 3 at 3:26
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The rule I was taught in school was to spell out numbers that are less than or equal to 20, with various exceptions. But this is a matter of style. Different organizations have different style guides.

If your company has a style guide, follow it. If not and they have an editor who has his own idea of proper style, then unless he's blatantly wrong or his ideas are wildly impractical, you pretty much have to just follow what he says. If he's sanctioned by the boss to make up the rules, then ... he makes the rules.

If I was making the rules, I'd say yes, in a bullet list or a chart, I might well use numerals. But I doubt your organization cares what I think.

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