Writing Style – Dates

BizWritingTip reader: “People write dates as Jan 12th, 2011, and others write Jan 12, 2011 or 12th Jan, 2011. Under what circumstances do we need the ‘th’ after the date and is the comma always needed before the year?”

BizWritingTip response: For standard business writing in Canada, a semi-formal approach to writing dates is recommended. Here are some guidelines:

First, months should be written out in full as using an abbreviation for a month is considered casual. The abbreviation should be used only in an informal email, text messaging, or charts.

Second, use two commas to set off the year when it follows the month and day.


On June 3, 2011, we will hold our annual meeting.

Third, if a day of the week precedes the month, you will also need to insert a comma after the day.


We will meet on Friday, January 14, 2011.

Fourth, if only the month and year are given, do not use a comma to separate them.


In March 2011, I plan to take a vacation. (The comma is placed after the year because the date is an introductory phrase.)
The figures will be ready for January 2011.

In legal documents and formal invitations, dates are written more formally.

Examples (all are acceptable)

November twentieth
The twentieth of November
The twentieth day of November

In British usage, a date is written day-month-year (Monday the 14th, January 2008), while Canadian and American usage is month-day-year. Therefore, the British write 4 May, while Canadians and Americans write May 4.

Examples (British date)

Monday the 14th, January 2008?4 May

Examples (North American date)

Friday, January 14, 2011
May 4

If you use the numbered style for dates, you could get into a serious problem: 05/04/11. Is this May or April? British or North American? Write out the dates, and you won’t have a problem.