Phone Number Formatting

I am constantly criticized and asked to change the way I format telephone numbers. People always think that the way they do it is best.

Most of the time, I prefer this format: (480) 945-5653.

So that’s what I use when I put a phone number on a web site or printed piece.

But 99% of the time the customer asks me to change it.

Sometimes they want it like this: 480-945-5653. The rest of the time, they like using periods between numbers, like this: 480.945.5653.

Then there are people who want to use some wicked combination. My favorite is separating the numbers every two digits. As such: 48 09 45 56 53. Yes, that is beautiful.

24 responses to “Phone Number Formatting”

  1. I have to confess that this is a pet peeve of mine.

    If someone wants to see how phone numbers should be formatted, all they have to do is pick up a phone book and look. There are tons of phone books out there, with thousands upon thousands of phone numbers listed. And guess what? They all format the numbers the same way: (555) 555-1212. Why? Because that is the standard, and is the CORRECT way to display a phone number.

    Wake up, people! Your phone number is *NOT* an IP address!

  2. I like periods, but it is a stylistic way of doing it and i don’t think it fits most of the time. Otherwise i do it with dashes for simplicity. I rarely use the parenthesis as i don’t really like the shift button all that much.

    But i think that there is a proper way and it is certainly the way you have it.

  3. I find it hard to take anyone seriously when they separate a phone number with periods. Stylistic or not, it’s simply a retarded use of the character.

  4. That last format got me thinking about other ways to hide a phone number…

    How about:

    hex: 11E-AA-7825

    binary: 10001111-010101010-0111100000100101

    Fibonacci spacing: 4 8 09 455 653–

    Spelled out: four-eighty, nine forty-five, fifty-six, fifty-three.

    weird: four8zero9four5five6five3

    ssn: 480-94-5565. 3.

    awesome: 48(0)9-45(5)65-3

    long (some phone numbers will take more space than others): … (repeat 477 more times) – … (repeat 942 more times) – … (repeat 5,650 more times)

    Seriously, you should just say “no” to that last one. I would assume it was an overseas number if I saw it and avoid calling it like the plague.

  5. actually the period version is how it is commonly done in Europe and it’s one more of those fantastic fashions that has crossed the “pond”. Viva la French!

  6. Periods are hot. Parenthesis are ugly.
    Sure, it’s the “proper” format, but unless you’re designing a lame ad that will be printed in a phone book, don’t use the phone book as a reference for styling a phone number.
    I say, use whatever format works with your design concept.

  7. ZOMG,

    I don’t know why I never thought anyone but myself experienced this problem with clients. You are 100% correct Chris. But given the lemming like nature of most people, they see someone using the dots and then they figure that they MUST use them also to be in with the in crowd.

  8. If you break the 3-3-4 rhythm the entire US has come to learn, you are forcing people to think when they shouldn’t have to. Whether it takes them a split second to realize it’s a phone number, or they fail to recognize it at all.

    As long as that rhythm is intact, I think most people will associate the number sequence with phone numbers. Personally, I enter phone numbers in my contact lists with just spaces (less to write/type) but when displaying them for the general public, the (xxx)xxx-xxxx method is most common.

  9. I/we use periods most of the time, but for our CRM and any like database entry stuff we go with the dash. Either of those two are good I think; also depending on the font used on the page the parenthesis start too look weird with the line-height etc.

    Just use microformats and as long as the number is there you’re fine 🙂

  10. I don’t know if it will be updated in the next Phone Book sent, but DEX uses no parenthesis or dash. Simply 3 digits and a space (so it is 623 555-9876)

    Online though, they switch methods.

    Seems parenthesis is still the standard. Heres what some major phone indexes in the US use online:

    Dex: (555) 555-5555
    Yellowbook: 555-555-5555
    Yellow Pages: (555) 555-5555
    Yahoo YP: (555) 555-5555
    Google Bus Dir: (555) 555-5555

  11. According to the new addition of AP Stylebook, there should not be parenthesis, only a dash after the area code. Open your local phone book. What do you see?

  12. My understanding has always been to use parentheses when the number in the parentheses was not necessary to be entered for local calling. For example, I live in Houston, and several years ago the default area code was 713. So if someone had a 713 area code, you did not have to dial 713, just their number.

    Now, however, the city has grown tremendously and there are over 3 area codes – 713, 281, & 832..making the parentheses unnecessary IMO.

    With that said, I always just use dashes or periods.

  13. Standards are made to make life easier. Also for formatting telephone numbers.
    When you’ll read the description of E.123 ( you will recognise most of the other comments here.

    The basic distinction is formatting numbers for local use and for international use. The (xxx) yyy yyyy format is used for dialing from within the same country, whereas +cc aaa yyy yyyy is common for a more internationally oriented audience.
    As Americans are more oriented towards the US itself and Europeans have more countries to deal with, this explains the different formatting preferences.

    About visual separation of numbers you will find that:

    E.123 recommends that only spaces be used to visually separate groups of numbers, “…unless an agreed upon explicit symbol (e.g. hyphen) is necessary for procedural purposes…” in national notation. Only spaces should be used to visually separate groups of numbers in international notation. In national notation, parentheses are used to indicate digits that are sometimes not dialled. Parentheses should not be used in the international notation. A slash (/) may be used to indicate alternate numbers.

  14. I write my phone numbers with dashes. Periods can be hard to read sometimes.They have a snobby vibe to them, which can be a real turnoff,not to mention that they appear “trendy”. I hate the periods.

  15. I don’t use periods in phone numbers anymore after I heard that it was bad luck. So I stick to dashes.

  16. When using the format (555) 555-1212,
    should there be a space after ‘right’ parenthesis,
    or should it be like (555)555-1212,
    which one is better.

  17. I’d prefer making use of the E.164 standard. this is used to CallerID and would not implicate any dificulties for reading.

    Since most people make use of synchronisation of their addressbook between notebook and mobile phone, the format is less important. only thing is that all use technologies need to be able to handle the format.

  18. I have been reading recently that there are data miners out there that have a program that “mine” phone numbers on websites and social networking sites, and uses them for illegal telemarketing calls. The program can only use phone numbers formatted in the period form ( because the hyphenated form (xxx-xxx-xxxx)gives out too much erroneous results. Mainly from confusion with zip+4 codes.

    So if you receive many telemarketing calls that you did not authorize, take take a minute to reformat your phone numbers to a hyphenated form, and this should cut down on most of those calls.

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