numbers: clarity

When communicating numerical information, make clarity your first consideration. Present the information in such a way that the reader can understand it easily.

European conventions

When writing for non-Canadians, make sure you are aware of the conventions used in the target country. Europeans, for example, who are steeped in the metric system, do not confine themselves as we usually do to multiples of 1000. They will more naturally write 3 dL (decilitres) than 300 mL or 0.3 L. Material written for the European market should conform to this practice.

Remember, too, that in Europe—and in Quebec—1,500 means “one and a half,” and 1.500 means “fifteen hundred.”

Billion and trillion

The British “billion” is the equivalent of the American “trillion,” while a British “trillion” is a million million million. In certain circumstances, it may be advisable to write a thousand million or 109 or giga- instead of billion, and a million million or 1012 or tera- instead of trillion, to avoid the risk of misinterpretation. For similar reasons, the abbreviation ppb (parts per billion) should not be used. Rewrite 100 ppb as 0.1 ppm (parts per million).


Dollar amounts in different currencies should be distinguished from one another by some easily understood marker. A reference to $20 will be ambiguous to a non‑Canadian reader and may be taken to refer to American dollars or to some other currency. The Translation Bureau recommends the symbol Can$ to represent the Canadian dollar:

  • Can$20

Note: The abbreviation Can$ is sometimes written entirely in upper case: CAN$20

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