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I have an application that is sending an email to someone reminding them of an appointment.

What is the best way to display such a stand-alone date?

The reason I have such a question is because (as a developer/engineer) it is my training to want to have dates in 'bigendian' (YYYY-MM-DD) so they're easier to compare in a list. But I realize that when someone sees a data by itself, other psychological rules may apply. So in no particular order

  • I feel like American style dates (MM/DD/YYYY) may be more comfortable for people to read.
  • but 'Thu, Jan 6, 2011' will be more digestible (and more easily understandable as a particular date in the near future)

So of those three (or variations, or any others), which would be the least error-prone in readability?

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3 Answers 3

up vote 7 down vote accepted

For a date which is meant to be consumed by a user only, I think it's best to spell out the date as much as is feasible.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Of course, if the purpose is to remind someone of an appointment, I'd argue that the year isn't really necessary, since you won't be reminding them of an appointment more than a year in advance.

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I'd agree with everybody else that the longer formats are less liable to misunderstanding.

As a general point the 'American' format MM/DD/YYYY is especially confusing if you have an international audience, since other countries (e.g. UK) have a DD/MM/YYYY format - which means that many dates are ambiguous to the reader (e.g. is 01/02/2011 Feb 1st or Jan 2nd?)

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"Since other countries" i.e. all other countries than US and Canada :) –  mplungjan Feb 20 '11 at 17:20
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The week day is very important. Put the date in full text for better readability.

Some people also organize themselves by weeks so knowing the week number (1 - 52) can be useful.

If your application has international users, display the date in their native format.

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