The Implications of Dates and Time

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Since coming to Qatar, I have had to re-conceptualize time—not in a grand theoretical physics manner, but in a cultural and conventional sense. Muslims gather for a Friday prayer and do not observe a day of rest, or Sabbath, on Saturday or Sunday, like Jews or Christians, so the work week here begins on Sunday and ends on Thursday. Additionally, the work hours in Qatar for most government offices is about 7am to 2pm. Primary and secondary school hours are between 7am to 2pm as well. That means traffic in Doha is crazy around 7am and 2pm as people are either dropping off their children and heading to work or coming from work and picking up their children.

Regardless of what part of the world I’m living in and the religion of its dominant culture, all I want is 5 days of work and 2 days of rest, and I would also like to avoid time spent commuting or sitting in traffic. Currently, I live about 10 minutes away from Qatar University and teach after 12pm, Sunday through Thursday. Thus, I have only had to make slight adjustments when it comes to the weekly schedule and hours of government operation in Qatar, so I am mostly happy.

Sunday is Monday, and Friday is Sunday. No problem.

However, I have had to concentrate less on navigating time and more on how to format time since coming to Qatar. What do I mean by this?

One of my tasks for the Foundation Program Department of English is serving on the Program Administration committee, and my main responsibility for this committee is to proofread the weekly memo.

Around 9am on Thursday morning, I receive a draft of the weekly memo. Usually there are between 10-15 memo items that have been submitted my various members of the FPDE team.

These team members might employ British or American spelling conventions (for example, humour versus humor) and punctuation conventions (such as ‘single’ quotation marks or non-use of the Oxford or serial comma). I usually do not edit these varying conventional interpretations because I do not consider them errors, they are justifiable and part of the writer’s voice. Since there is a diverse roster of nationalities in the FPDE, we all have accents, not only in our speaking but also in our writing.

Regardless, where I do a draw a line is with how we format dates and time in the memos. Here are some examples of how dates and time appear in the first draft of the memo:

  • The meeting will be on November 15th, 2017 at 3pm
  • The activity will be on 15 November 2017 from 2:00 PM to 3:00 PM
  • Please register by 15/11/2017 at 14:00

How do I go about sorting this madness? What conventions should be employed?

My first guiding principle when editing the weekly memo is that information needs to be clear. My second principle is that the formatting of this information needs to consistent. The audience for the memo must be able to find the date and time information that they are looking for in a manner that remains the same.

If the memo employs multiple formats for dates and time, this can be jarring and annoying to the reader through no fault of the individual writers. This is a problem of the collective writing.

In order to bring more clarity and consistency to the formatting of dates and time, here are some of the practices that the head of the PA committee and I have been employing (with the approval of our Head of Department, of course).

In regards to dates, they will be formatted as day month year. The benefits of the day/month/year format are that it arranges dates in a logical progression of measurement and avoids an extra but necessary comma in the month/day/year format.

  • 15 November 2017
  • November 15, 2017 (incorrect)

Additionally, months should be spelled out to be explicit and avoid confusing new or forgetful readers of the memo.

  • Is 09/11/2017 for 9 November 2017 or September 11, 2017?

Lastly, the endings -rd, -st, or -th and superscript formatting should not be added after numerical days. This additional information and formatting is not necessary.

  • 15th November 2017 (incorrect)

In regards to time, the memos will employ a 12-hour clock, not a 24-hour clock, or military time. While there are arguments for the benefits of the 24-hour clock, in everyday discussion and correspondences, FPDE staff members use a 12-hour clock. A person might say, “I teach at 2pm on Monday.” No one ever says, “I teach at 14:00 on Monday.” (Plus, we are teaching English courses, not running military operations.)

  • 2:00 PM
  • 14:00 (incorrect)

Moreover, time should be written in the simplest manner possible, removing the unnecessary minutes, spacing, and the capitalization.

  • 2pm
  • 2:00 PM (incorrect)

Lastly, if there is a time range, it should be written out in a simple, but clear manner with the pertinent information. The following are some examples:

  • 2-3pm
  • 2-2:45pm
  • 11am-1pm
  • 11:15am-12:15pm

At this point, some of my blog readers are probably thinking, “Ugh! This is so boring. Who cares about the nuances of formatting dates and time?”

However, since coming to Qatar and starting work at QU, my most widespread, but likely unnoticed contribution, to the FPDE has been cleaning up and organizing the weekly department memos. All FPDE staff members are supposed to read the memo, and if I can make the information clearer and more discernible for them, then I consider this a modest victory for my first semester. Sometimes you deliver the big speech to rally the crowd, and sometimes you merely set the date and time for the crowd to show up and rally for the speech.

From Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are? by Dr. Seuss
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