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Your Telephone Number

What is the correct way to format it?

     
8:53 pm on Feb 20, 2008 (gmt 0)

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Okay, this drives me crazy sometimes and I'd like to get your input. What is the correct way to display your phone number? In the U.S., I typically use this format...

714-555-1212 or if outside the area code, 1-714-555-1212

If I'm dialing your country from the United States or, if I'm formatting your phone number for a database entry, what is the correct "official" way to write your phone number? Do you use parenthesis around the area code? Do you use hyphens to replace a space? Why use the + symbol, I don't have a + symbol on my phone, well, not in that sense. :)

What is the correct way for a machine? Use hyphens? What?

9:50 pm on Feb 20, 2008 (gmt 0)

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Microsoft have a short but sweet page [microsoft.com] on the subject.

Essentially, there appear to be conventions, but no agreed standard.

For a machine (i.e. if a machine might actually dial), I would omit anything but numbers. If you're storing it for display only, I would go with whatever the convention seems to be.

Probably not the definitive answer you were after ;)

1:07 am on Feb 21, 2008 (gmt 0)

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When designing and coding for display and storage of telephone numbers, do not assume one given format, but leave it very flexible. The current implementation of NLS APIs and the .NET Framework do not provide any telephone-number formatting information. Knowing this, you should:

Keep country codes, area codes, and phone numbers in separate fields.

Not expect a fixed number of digits for an area code or phone number. (A phone number can be anything between 4 to 11 digits.)

Expect different separators-hyphens (-), periods (.), and commas (,)-between numbers. (You will need to do your own parsing for these separators.)

Bullet point number 1, keep country codes, area codes and phone numbers in separate fields. Well, I'm trying to determine where those fields begin and end. I can't do that with a free form telephone number field and users are entering numbers in all different formats and I can't really find a one-size fits all solution. I need to be able to know what the segments of the phone number are. Then you have people adding + symbols in front of a country code, not using spaces, using spaces, using parenthesis, blah, blah, blah, it gets rather tricky.

8:55 am on Feb 21, 2008 (gmt 0)

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I can't really find a one-size fits all solution

If it's user input you could try to force their hand by having separate fields for area codes and phone number, although of course you then run the risk of harming usability.

It's easier if you only accepting input from one particular country (or if you know the country, although geo-detection is probably unreliable and overkill in this instance).

1:49 pm on Feb 21, 2008 (gmt 0)

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What I was considering for a web app of mine, before deciding to scrap the project, was to store the number as a string of numbers and ignore the formatting. The user had a setting option where they could pick the format and that option was used when the number was displayed. That way if one user liked (000)000-0000 and one like 000/000-0000 they could each have their way without it affecting the data.

Of course that only really would have worked because they were all US phone numbers. I didn't have to worry about other countries for this particular site.

1:54 pm on Feb 21, 2008 (gmt 0)

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Why use the + symbol, I don't have a + symbol on my phone, well, not in that sense.

The + code should be replaced by the digit sequence needed by your phone company to dial an international line. In many countries it is standardized to 00, but not everywhere. The nice thing is that if you put + in front of phone numbers in a GSM phone, it will automatically chose the right international dial code depending of the country you are traveling in and the roaming partner you are using. There is a + key on many GSM phones, often by holding the 0 key for a few seconds.

1:17 am on Feb 26, 2008 (gmt 0)

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Personally I don't think it matters. If you worry about retaining formatting, have two columns; one of which takes verbatim input, and the other of which contains the phone number with all punctuation removed.

Prefixed + can be replaced with 00 assuming you dial out using 00.

10:29 am on Mar 15, 2008 (gmt 0)

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+ is the standard prefix for the international dialling code and you don't need to know the local craziness to make the call. In Australia, the local prefix is 0011, in NZ they do everything as per the UK, so it is 00, North America uses 011, etc.

My Australian purchased Nokias all display the + symbol when the * key is pressed twice in rapid succession. As I travel a bit, I store all my phone numbers with their international prefix, even local numbers I would not need to call from abroad. That way, I never need to think about prefixes.

My US-purchased Nokia won't let me store a + symbol before a number, so I have to add the crazy 011 for the handful of Aussie numbers I am likely to need from the US.

(As an aside, the US Nokias let you store a calling card but the Aussie version of the same model doesn't have this option -- Same phone manufacturer, but different presumptions made for two countries)

How it is presented on a website depends on which style guide you need to follow. If a website is used by local and international users, then the local area code prefix (usually a zero) is in parentheses to signify that foreigners should not add it, e.g.

+44 (0)20 1234 5678 - UK
+61 (0)3 1234 5678 - AU

Many sites won't bother with the (0) as locals know to use the prefix within the country.

The international US prefix is +1, so we can easily adopt your "1" used to signify out-of-area-code:

+1 (650) 555-1212

I suspect that Americans won't worry about the + symbol but will recognise the 1, so they too can use the number without confusion. Good on you for even thinking about this topic, as most North American sites don't.

1:36 pm on Mar 18, 2008 (gmt 0)

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I format contact numbers as shown by anallawalla on my site. The + makes it clear that the following digits are the country code. Very handy if the user has missed any other location specific references.
1:41 pm on Mar 18, 2008 (gmt 0)

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For database use in a previous incarnation we ended up with two fields, a display format for the user interface and a standardised format for matching to caller ID in the call centre and displaying customer details.
12:06 am on Mar 19, 2008 (gmt 0)

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Every country seems to use a different format. It also depends on whether they have an open or a closed numbering plan.

Wikipedia and other sites have full details of the formats to use. In some countries they are specified by law.

Be aware that in the UK, there are several formats, and they change depending on the area code being used.

Area codes like 01n1 and 011n use the 01nn nnn nnnn format.
Area codes like 02n use the 02n nnnn nnnn format.
Area codes like 01nnn use the 01nnn nnnnnn format (NOT including 01n1 and 011n of course).
Area codes like 07nnn use the 07nnn nnnnnn format.
Area codes beginning 08 use several formats. There seems to be a mix of 08nn nnn nnnn and 08nnn nnnnnn with no rhyme nor reason why.

In several European countries, dots are used between groups of two or three digits. Some others break up with spaces.

Do not make up your own custom formats. They will confuse the reader.

If I see a number like 0120 255 71 34 or as 012 0255 7134, I will NOT recognise it at all if the correct format was supposed to be 01202 557134.

By the way: Microsoft's advice was wrong for the specified UK number in their example.

12:41 am on Mar 19, 2008 (gmt 0)

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Personally, I prefer the format:

(###) ###-####

I don't like the "modern" format:

###.###.####

(Mostly because it looks like an IP address at first glance).

Additionally, when I have to list a PHONE number and a FAX number, I usually make the phone number bold or larger or colored or some combination of the three, e.g.-

Phone: (555) 123-1212
Fax: (555) 123-1213

I can't say how many times I've gotten a business card or seen numbers listed on a website as:

Phone (555) 123-1212, Fax (555) 123-1213

and dialed the FAX number because my eye saw "Phone" at the beginning of the line, and the number at the end of the same line.

1:03 am on Mar 19, 2008 (gmt 0)

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To an international reader there is vital information missing in those formats.
3:33 am on Mar 19, 2008 (gmt 0)

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To an international reader there is vital information missing in those formats.

-g1smd

You are right -- I was more or less saying "use traditional formatting", (but in the "Is there anyplace other than the USA?" context)... In a sense, agreeing with your previous post of "Do not make up your own custom formats. They will confuse the reader" comment.

In the USA, for the past 30+ years, the standard format has been:

(AREA CODE) EXCHANGE-NUMBER

Now I see people using:

AREA.EXCHANGE.NUMBER
AREA-EXCHANGE-NUMBER
AREA EXCHANGE.NUMBER

etc..

I collect ephemera, and realy like the old business cards and other printed material with phone numbers like:

Tel: 5214

-or-

Telephone: HI7-5241

...(where the HI7 was pronounced as "Highland Seven").

I'm still getting used to having to dial an area code to ring up my next door neighbor.

Another anecdote: I had to design a computer graphic for a local police website. It read:

Emergency? Dial 991

Kids must wonder why we say "dial" (a phone number), when there is no longer a "dial" on a telephone...