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I'm being told by an experienced BA (> 25 years) that "Numeric numbers are usually totaled therefore should be right justified." And that text should always be left justified.

I have never heard this before now. Is this a true "standard"?

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Numeric numbers as opposed to non-numeric numbers? –  Charles Boyung Nov 11 '11 at 14:16
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@Charles Boyung - That's another uncertainty for me. E.G. Sometimes a number is actually stored as a string. Medicare codes usually are of the form "####", but they are identifiers. They are not used for mathematical operations. In some cases they may even have an alpha character appended to the end. So is it a number? –  P.Brian.Mackey Nov 11 '11 at 14:26
    
@P.Brian I think you have pretty much identified the difference. A number measures or counts something (such as an age, a price, or similar). Something like a medicare code is not really a number even though it looks a bit like one: it's just a string of characters. –  Bennett McElwee Nov 13 '11 at 9:57
    
@P.Brian, identifiers should probably still be right-aligned if the ordering is numeric first (11 comes beforer 100). I am not familiar with medicare codes, but perhaps it should be aligned on the last numeric character. –  Inca Nov 13 '11 at 12:18
    
what about dates? –  Erics Nov 14 '11 at 6:28
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2 Answers

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Yes. English text is usually left-aligned. Numbers are normally aligned so that the various places (unit, tens, etc.) are in columns. If the numbers are integers, this just means right-aligning the numbers. If they have decimal fractions, then the decimal places should be aligned, with the units digits all in a vertical line.

This makes it easy to compare the numbers' magnitudes. Mac OS X gets this wrong in the Finder: File sizes are given in abbreviated form, such as 342kB or 6MB. When reading a file listing, it's hard to spot the 342MB file amongst all the 342kB files.

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Numbers should always be right justified if they're to be compared, especially for cash amounts; this keeps the decimal in the same place if the items are rounded the same and makes arithmetic and comparison easy. –  Ben Brocka Nov 10 '11 at 20:33
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@Ben Brocka Numbers should be right-aligned only if their fractional parts are a fixed width (for example, cash amounts probably have a decimal point and 2 fractional digits.). But for example, if your list is 2, 14 and 3½ then the numbers should be aligned on the units digit, not right-aligned. –  Bennett McElwee Nov 10 '11 at 21:10
    
True, I'm just very used to money being arranged this way, not non-standard decimals/ect, so I hadn't considered –  Ben Brocka Nov 10 '11 at 21:29
    
Why not decimal-align them then? –  Alex Feinman Jul 27 '12 at 17:30
    
@Alex, I did suggest that in my answer. See also my other comment on handling non-decimal fractions. –  Bennett McElwee Jul 31 '12 at 1:21
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Yes, text should be left-aligned when in grids. Text labels, are best right-aligned. Research shows that there is less cognitive strain identifying relationship between text label and field when labels are right aligned. But in grids and charts, left-align.

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Do you have a source for this? –  ajkochanowicz Sep 4 '12 at 18:45
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