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How to write date range succinctly and unambiguously in American written English?

In a sentence I usually use "from January 1, 1923 through December 31, 1986". But it is too long for use in section titles.

It is relatively easy to find documentation on single date formatting compliant to standards and conventions for different locales. But I can't seem to find standards on date ranges formatting.

For example, for American English, how to format a date range so it's both succinct and unambiguous?

If the ends have different years, both should show up, e.g. 5/1/2011 - 5/4/2012.

What if the two years are same? I don't like 5/12/2012 - 7/21/2012 as it repeats the year unnecessarily; 5/12 - 7/21/2012 seems odd too. Any suggestions?

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I feel like it's hard to be unambiguous with dates when the American style gets involved. I'm not aware of any other countries that use Month/Day/Year instead of Day/Month/Year. To make it worse, some American companies, universities, individuals, etc use the more standard Day/Month/Year format. –  Jim Feb 9 '12 at 21:49
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Instead of 10/1/2011, say Oct 1, 2011. It's only two extra characters. And you can say Jun 3 – Aug 11, 2011. –  Peter Shor Feb 9 '12 at 21:52
    
@PeteShor I like Jun 3 – Aug 11, 2011. How would you include day name such as "Wed" into it? –  Problemania Feb 9 '12 at 22:04
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@Jim, agreed. I've taken to writing Year-Month-Day in contexts where I can get away with it, but it'll take a while to catch on. –  Monica Cellio Feb 9 '12 at 22:24
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Since you're talking about one particular year, it might already be clear from context. Otherwise, I feel that "5/12 - 7/21, 2012" is succinct and attractive. If you want days of the week, "Mon. 5/12 - Fri. 7/21, 2012" is OK. If that looks bad to you, throw some commas after Mon. and Fri. If it still looks bad, there's simply no pleasing you. Long live American date format! –  Patrick87 Feb 10 '12 at 0:15

2 Answers 2

up vote 4 down vote accepted

Many airlines codify the dates in terms of DDMMMYY but with explicit reference to the month name instead of the month number. For example, your example could be represented as 01JAN23-31DEC86. Depending on the space and the context you could give yourself a some rope and expand the items a little bit. Given the particular nature that in this case both dates belong to another century, you could be a little more specific: 01JAN1923-31DEC1986. If you can spare some more space, maybe some spaces would be fine to make a clearer reading: 01 JAN 1923 - 31 DEC 1986. Another detail could be turning all those caps in month names to normal capitalization, as in 01 Jan 1923 - 31 Dec 1986. You could even drop the leading 0s 1 Jan 1923 - 31 Dec 1986.

On the other hand, I've found this guide on date ranges. The following is just an extract, as there are more considerations when dealing with ranges with different lengths.

Dates of birth and death

At the start of articles on people, their dates of birth and death are provided. For example: "Charles Robert Darwin FRS (12 February 180919 April 1882) was an English naturalist ..." The two dates are separated by an en dash (HTML code: –). When either date contains a space, the en dash is preceded by a space (preferably a non-breaking space, code:  ) and followed by a space. When full dates are provided in the text or in an infobox, year-pairs can be sufficient for the lede in some cases; in such cases no spaces are used, e.g., "(1943–1971)".

  1. For an individual still living: "Serena Williams (born September 26, 1981) ...", not "... (September 26, 1981 –) ..."
  2. When only the years are known: "Socrates (470–399 BC) was..."
  3. When the year of birth is completely unknown, it should be extrapolated from earliest known period of activity: "Offa of Mercia (before 734 – 26 July 796) ..."
  4. When the year of birth is known only approximately: "John Sayer (c. 1750 – 2 October 1818) ..."
  5. When the years of both birth and death are known only approximately: "Dionysius Exiguus (c. 470 – c. 540) ..."
  6. When the date of death is completely unknown, it should be extrapolated from last known period of activity: "Robert Menli Lyon (1789 – after 1863) ..."
  7. When the reign of a sovereign is uncertain: "Rameses III (reigned c. 1180 BCE – c. 1150 BCE) ..."
  8. When the individual is known to have been alive (flourishing) at certain dates, [[floruit|fl.]] or {{fl.}} is used in articles, not disambiguation pages, to link to floruit, in case the meaning is not familiar: "Osmund (fl. 760–772) ..."
  9. When the individual is known to have been alive as early as about 660, and to have died in 685: "Aethelwalh (fl. c. 660 – 685) ..."

In biographical infobox templates, provide age calculation and microformat compatibility with date mathematics templates. See the documentation for those templates in order to use them properly, and Wikipedia:Manual of Style/Biographies for more guidelines on articles about people.

Other date ranges

Dates that are given as ranges should follow the same patterns as given above for birth and death dates.

Hope it helps.

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I decided to use

2 - 3 Feb 2011

2 Feb - 4 June 2011

2 Dec 2011 - 4 Jan 2012

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-1. This doesn't answer your question, since these dates are clearly not in the American date format. Hence, the answer is incorrect. –  Patrick87 Feb 10 '12 at 17:31
    
That, plus the missing leading zero. –  Kris Feb 13 '12 at 14:43
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And the awful hyphens where dashes would be correct! –  RegDwigнt Aug 22 '12 at 9:33
    
@RegDwightАΑA I've seen hypen mistakenly used for dashes all over the place. How to type dash conveniently on Mac, Windows, Linux, respectively? –  Problemania Aug 22 '12 at 14:52
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@Problemania, on Mac it's pretty easy. Holding alt (aka option) down when pressing the hyphen key will type an en-dash (). Holding alt and shift down when pressing the hyphen key will type an em-dash (). On ios you can just hold down the hyphen button and a popup will appear wherein you can choose which dash you want. –  Jun-Dai Bates-Kobashigawa Dec 16 '13 at 15:05

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