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Date Formatting for a Global Audience

Date Formatting for a Global Audience

By James H. Choi
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There are many things you need to be aware of when you write to a global audience.  What is extremely clear to you could cause confusion in the global reader’s mind.

One such case is the date format.  You should not write a day as 01/02/03.

A date consists of three pieces of information.  Year, month and day. Mathematically speaking there are 6 ways to arrange them, or a 3! (factorial) ways.

But I have used only three of them.

  • Americans use Month/Date/Year.  01/02/03 would be January 2, 2003
  • South Americans and Europeans use Date/Month/Year.  01/02/03 would be February 1, 2003
  • China, Korea, and Japan use Year/Month/Date.  01/02/03 would be February 3, 2001

Other systems might exist, but these three are the ones I have used and they are already enough to cause frustration. These are unnecessary confusions that can be easily avoided.

If you write for a global audience, eliminate the possibility of ambiguities by following these simple rules:

  • Spell out the month (e.g. “February,” not “02”)
  • Write all four digits of the year (e.g. “2003,” not “03”)

http://dl.dropbox.com/u/6378458/Column/Info/English/SpecialEvents.gifThis way, no matter how your writing is arranged, the reader can figure out the date.  This full spelling of the date might seem laborious.  But this is what it takes to be clear in this world of confusing and conflicting standards.

Even when you use software packages such as Excel, always choose formats with four-digit years, spelled-out month names, and the date.

Personally, I find the Chinese interpretation most consistent because it follows the hierarchy of time making it only one that will correctly sort the date/time in a chronological order without any special algorithms.


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