The Write Stuff: A Hot Date

October 05, 2016

rdgreen-October 05, 2016

Rummaging through my desk the other day, I ran across a receipt dated 07/07/07. This slot machine roll on the calendar made me smile; not just for its winning jackpot quality, but because this is the one date that would be read the same way on every continent on Earth.

No doubt you adhere to some convention for expressing a date, but which one? Much of the world including Europe, Asia, Australia, and Latin America uses a "little-endian" format: day, month, year. The convention followed in China and Japan may be thought of as "big-endian": year, month, day. If you hail from one of those places, you might think two formats are more than enough. Alas, the US -- determined not to be left out of the "dating" scene -- uses something that might be called "middle-endian": month, day, year.

What's a mother to do?

Putting a date on material is something most everyone does. It's an easy and obvious way of tracking progress and versions. The format I use for this borrows from little-endian ordering, but uses alpha characters to express the month. Written in that style, the triple-seven date would be 07Jul2007.

I like this for several reasons: this is an extremely compact form and uses no spaces or special characters. It is completely unambiguous; it's understood around the world; and is never confused with another date. It makes a very reliable date stamp.

Since I use Microsoft Word to create a number of documents, it's handy to have Word express dates in this format and update them automatically. For that you need "Fields" (Microsoft's term for variables). In the latest version of Word, you can find them using Insert > Quick Parts > Field... As you will see, there are dozens of fields, but the ones required for this task come from the collection of "Date and Time" fields -- I find Date and SaveDate to be the most useful.

All it takes to make this work is the formatting code that Word uses to express dates. Select the SaveDate field in the Field tool and enter ddMMMyyyy, where dd = two digits for the day; MMM = month using three alpha characters; and yyyy = four digits for the year.

I suspect most people already have a convention they use with their documents and are not inclined to change their date formats at this late date (pun intended -- sorry). However, there's one trick many people might find handy: in the copyright statement -- often in the page footer or disclaimer page -- I use the Date field with just the year specified as yyyy. If any of these documents are opened after January 1, the date in the copyright will already show the new year (Click Here to see a walk-through of the Word GUI used to set this up).

How about you? What date format(s) do you use and how do you employ it/them?

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