How to Write the Date in an Essay
  • 3-minute read
  • 4th February 2016

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 using an ordinal suffix after the day.  These are the letters we’d use if we were writing the number out in full and are often written with a superscript font:

We last spoke on the 21st of April.

The meetings will be held on the 2nd of February and the 13th June.

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

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.

Find this useful?

Subscribe to our newsletter and get writing tips from our editors straight to your inbox.

Check Your Style Guide and 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.

The US date format also places a comma between the day and year when both are numbers, as well as omitting superscript letters. The only time you would use superscript letters after the day in the US date format is when writing it out in full as, e.g., the 10th of September.

You can see a few examples of UK and US dates below:

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

As you can see, 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! Take care about which format you use when writing for international audiences.

The International Date Format

Finally, if you’re sharing information across the world, you may want to use the international date format (ISO 8601). This is a standardized format that works across borders, so it is commonly used by government organizations and global businesses. And it always uses the format YYYY-MM-DD, which removes any chance of confusion:

We sent the invoice on 2020-07-10.

The date above, for example, denotes the 10th of July 2020.

Expert Proofreading

If you want to be sure the dates in your documents are always clear and correct, don’t forget to have your writing proofreading. Submit a trial document for free today to find out more.

Comments (2)
16th October 2019 at 22:16
Peppa Pig “The Fire Engine” aired (20 May 2009) do leave the brackets to the date or remove them ??
    17th October 2019 at 08:06
    Hi, Lachlan. It's difficult to offer definite advice without knowing the context, so you may want to submit a document for proofreading, but you would probably want 'aired' to be either inside the brackets with the date or to have everything outside the brackets.

Get help from a language expert.

Try our proofreading services for free.

More Writing Tips?
Trusted by thousands of leading
institutions and businesses

Make sure your writing is the best it can be with our expert English proofreading and editing.