How to Write the Date in an Essay

You probably see the date written down (or displayed on a screen) dozens of times every day. You might even have to write it out yourself if you’re booking an appointment or organising your schedule.

Despite this, most of us give very little thought to how we write the date. In academic writing and other formal contexts, however, it’s important to use a clear and consistent format.

Different Formats

The most important thing to remember when writing the date is that, in the UK and throughout most of the world, we favour a day-month-year format (otherwise known as the little-endian sequence). This can be presented in numerous ways, including:

  • Day + Month (e.g. 21 April)
  • Day + Month + Year (e.g., 21 April 2016)
  • Numbers Only (e.g. 21/04/2016)

There are also variations to how these can be presented, such as by including a comma after the month (e.g. 21 April, 2016) or using a superscript letters after the day: e.g. 21st April, 2nd February, 13th June, etc.

Sometimes, the month in the date can be shortened to save space. For example:

14 January 2012 → 14 Jan 2012

9 October → 9 Oct

However, generally in formal writing it’s better to use the longer format for clarity. Likewise, when including a date in an essay you should usually write it out (e.g. 21 April 2016) rather than use the numbers-only style.

Check Your Style Guide & Be Consistent

Since there are various ways of writing the date, you should always check your university’s style guide to see if a preferred format is specified. If it doesn’t offer any particular advice, simply pick a clear format that suits you and make sure to use it consistently for all dates in your essay.

UK vs. American Dates

The other thing to keep in mind when writing (and reading) dates is how the US date format differs from ours. In America, dates use a month-day-year format, which can lead to problems when they are written out in numbers only as days and months get confused:

UK Date US Date
07 April 2016 (07/04/2016) April 07 2016 (04/07/2016)
11th December 2013 (11/12/13) December 11th 2013 (12/11/13)
4th January 1945 (4/1/1945) January 4th 1945 (1/4/1945)

As you can see above, the date ‘07/04/2016’ represents the 7th of April 2016 in the UK, but the same numbers indicate the 4th of July in America! You should therefore take care about which format you use when writing for different audiences.



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