How To Write Date And Time In An Essay
This section discusses numbers, how to write them correctly, and when to use numerical expressions instead.
Contributors: Chris Berry
Last Edited: 2018-02-07 03:40:58
Although usage varies, most people spell out numbers that can be expressed in one or two words and use figures for numbers that are three or more words long. Note: If you are using a specific citation style, such as MLA or APA, consult the style manual for specific formatting instructions.
over two pounds
six million dollars
after thirty-one years
after 126 days
Here are some examples of specific situations:
Days and Years
December 12, 1965 or 12 December 1965
in 1971-72 or in 1971-1972
the eighties, the twentieth century
the 1980's or the 1980s
Time of Day
8:00 A.M. (or) a.m. (or) eight o'clock in the morning
4:30 P.M. (or) p.m. (or) half-past four in the afternoon
16 Tenth Street
350 West 114 Street
Page and Division of Books and Plays
in act 3, scene 2 (or) in Act III, Scene ii
Decimals and Percentages
a 2.7 average
13.25 percent (in nonscientific contexts)
25% (in scientific contexts)
.037 metric ton
Large Round Numbers
four billion dollars (or) $4 billion
16,500,000 (or) 16.5 million
Notes on Usage
Repeat numbers in commercial writing.
The bill will not exceed one hundred (100) dollars.
Use numerals in legal writing.
The cost of damage is $1,365.42.
Numbers in series and statistics should be consistent.
two apples, six oranges, and three bananas
NOT: two apples, 6 oranges, and 3 bananas
115 feet by 90 feet (or) 115' x 90'
scores of 25-6 (or) scores of 25 to 6
The vote was 9 in favor and 5 opposed
Write out numbers beginning sentences.
Six percent of the group failed.
NOT: 6% of the group failed.
Use a combination of figures and words for numbers when such a combination will keep your writing clear.
Unclear: The club celebrated the birthdays of 6 90-year-olds who were born in the city. (may cause the reader to read '690' as one number.)
Clearer: The club celebrated the birthdays of six 90-year-olds who were born in the city.
Did you know the Month/Day/Year (12/01/1994) format is almost exclusive to the U.S.? Belize and Micronesia also use this format and it is secondary in Canada and the Philippines. Anywhere else you live or travel, you're more likely to find the date written in the little endian format: Day/Month/Year (01/12/1994).
Here are some of the regions that format their date in the Day/Month/Year format:
- Central America (except Belize)
- South America
Things get interesting when you're in Spanish-speaking countries. Look to see if most of the people living or working around you drop the zero when the day or month is a single digit. That seems to be the norm. So, March 2, 2017 would be 2/3/2017 instead of 02/03/2017.
The International Standard
So many systems for one simple concept, right? In an effort to avoid international miscommunication, the International Standard ISO 8601 was created. If an American writes May 3, 1988 as 05/03/1988 but an Italian writes May 3, 1988 as 03/05/1988 who's to know what's what!
As such, the ISO 8601 is:
Other Forms of Date Notation
There are other forms of writing the date used around the world, too. The most common of these is the big endian form, which seeks to avoid confusion by placing the year first, similar to the International Standard. Much of Asia uses this form when writing the date.
Here's an example:
- January 1, 2018 would be written as 2018 January 1. Notice there's no comma.
Interestingly, in Hungary, a comma isn't used when writing the date either. Instead, there's a dot after the year. Also, the first letter of the month isn't capitalized.
Here's an example:
- 2018. január 1
Dashes vs. Slashes
When writing the date with numbers only, they may be separated by a hyphen (-), slash (/), or dot (.) Most formal writings will accept a slash (/). Notice, however, that the ISO standard uses hyphens (-).
It's fair to say these methods are interchangeable. When writing an academic paper, you'll want to consult your professor's preferred method of citation. When filling out official documents or forms, note the instructions and sample text carefully.
While we're on the subject of formality, you never want to abbreviate the month (i.e. Nov. for November) in a formal document or communication. As a rule of thumb, abbreviated versions of words are far less formal.
Writing the Date Formally for Business, Invitations, and Academic Work
In formal U.S. writings, you never want to omit the year or use a purely numerical form for the date. For example, if you were to write a formal business letter, you'd write out the entire date, including the full month (January 1, 2011). Writing it out in such a way allows the notation to be understood by everyone.
In formal European writings, the date is typically written in a similar fashion to the American version. So July 4, 2011 would simply have the month and day switched around, making it 4 July 2011. Notice in a formal European version of the date, there's no comma. The comma separating the date from the year is an Americanism that the Europeans do not follow.
Make Their Formatting Your Primary Objective
In the end, most folks won't be too confused if you use a different format than what they're used to. The point is to try to make the other party's formatting your primary objective and also to be consistent. When in doubt, spell out the month to avoid that 05/03/1988 vs. 03/05/1988 debacle. When writing a research paper, consult your citation manual. And if you're writing in a formal setting, even if it’s an email, avoid all abbreviations. This will help keep you on the safe side of formal date writing.