Dates in essays and term papers

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Dates should always be recorded accurately in essays. There are a number of different conventions for presenting them. This is one of the most common.

1. Dates are usually represented by a combination of numbered day, named month, and numbered year. Note that punctuation is not required when using this system.

the events of 17 October 1956 proved fateful

2. Note – there’s no need to add abbreviations such as th or rd:

12 October 1993  not  12th October 1993

23 January 1897  not  23rd January 1897

3. The following example contains four references to dates:

In January 1948 the New Statesman and Nation called for an end to this ‘Russia complex’; within the body of the party it had already effectively passed away. Indeed, by 1949 the distinction between British social democracy and communism, Soviet or British, was infinitely clearer than during the thirties. Clement Atlee made the point explicitly in The Times on 11 April 1949.

4. References to centuries are spelled out, not capitalised, and hyphenated only when they serve as adjectives:

during the eighteenth century

a study of seventeenth-century literature

5. Decades may be referred to by name or number, according to the context. Note that the numbered form is not followed by an apostrophe (because it is a plural):

The 1890s saw an enormous decrease…

during the thirties, political tensions increased

6. Dates represented purely by numbers (15.9.93) may be shown in two different ways. The convention in Britain and most of Europe is as follows:


15.9.93 = 15 September 1993

7. The American convention (often seen in their publications and computer software) is to use


9.24.93 = 24 September 1993

8. Take care! This system can lead to potential confusion when both the first numbers are below twelve. The date 7.9.93 can easily be mistaken for 7 September 1993, when in American notation it is in fact 9 July 1993.

9. Similarly, an American seeing 4.3.97 in an English publication might mistake the date for 3 April 1997, when in fact it represents 4 March 1997.

10. In references to pre- and post-Christian eras, the number of the
year(s) precedes BC, and follows AD:

Solomon’s temple was rebuilt in 515 BC, but then destroyed by the
Romans in AD 70.

11. You might also come across the politically correct system of referring to BCE and ACE – as in the following examples:

500 BCE = 500 Before the Common Era
ACE 500 = 500 After the Common Era

© Roy Johnson 2003

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