Dates: avoid pitfalls, hit the sweet spot

I love dates. A date is just squishy and sticky enough. It’s sweet in a … substantial, thick way, not just bright sweet like Skittles. You have to take care not to bite into the stone, but that’s good too: because you’re paying attention, you enjoy it that little bit more.

…Wait. Sorry. Got my notes mixed up.

Okay: DATES. Today is Friday, July 28.

…Wait. No. It’s the 28th of July.

…7/28? 28/7? The 28th of the seventh?!

That all depends on who’s going to be reading your writing.

Dates are just one of the many little details that we all take for granted but editors and localization professionals have to pay close attention to, so that readers won’t be jolted by “foreignness.”

On a day like today, no matter which way you write the date, pretty much everybody will know when you mean. That’s because it happens to be the 13th of the month or later. There isn’t a month 13, so if a date has any of those numbers, that has to indicate the day, and the smaller number is the month.

But what about New Year’s Day? Wait a minute, that’s 1/1, no problem there. But the day after?

I’d write January 2, or 1/2. A British, Australian, or Kiwi writer would write 2 January, or 2/1, or 02/01. This can clearly lead to communications mixups. An American might show up to an appointment in England a month late. Or miss a deadline. Or an Australian might show up a month early, to everyone’s dismay.

Obviously, in business and in life, this is to be avoided.

My suggestion: when you’re writing a date, make clear which format you’re using.

  • If possible, like in body text, write out the name of the month.
  • If not, like in tables or forms, try and include a note to the effect of “(d/m/y)” to remove all doubt. Put it somewhere logical, like the column header. Other people who format the date the same way as you will look right over it. International readers will be grateful and reassured.

You might say that little details like this plant the seeds of quality.