3. Writing for an International Audience

Numbers and Symbols

Most of the world uses the metric system, although many people in the United States are familiar only with the U.S. equivalents for the metric system. Also, number and currency formats vary worldwide. For example, in many countries commas and decimal points are used differently. As a courtesy to readers who use different numeric systems, consider the following:

    These symbols are not recognized in many countries outside of the United States. Each measurement should include its metric system equivalent when appropriate.

    For example, "One billion equals 109" or "One trillion equals 1012."

    Such footnotes are necessary because the words "billion" and "trillion" (and larger denominations) have different meanings in different countries. In the United States, 1 billion means 1,000,000,000 (109); in some other countries, it means 1,000,000,000,000 (1012). For more information about the international use of numbers, refer to "Table of Numbers" in Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 10th ed. (Merriam-Webster, Inc., 1995).

    Many symbols have multiple meanings, and translators may have difficulty deciding which meaning you intended. For example, the "/" symbol can mean "and," "or," "and/or," "with," "divide by," "root," or "path-name divider."

    For example, in some Asian countries "4" indicates "death" and "9" signifies "suffering." Other numbers with connotations are "13," "69," and "666."