If you ask anyone, they will probably tell you that dates are the simplest data formats they have ever worked with. This is because they use dates all the time in different documents and applications, and they (dates) have never caused any confusion.
However, when they start digging deeper into dates or even time formats, they realize that dates are more complicated than they initially thought. For instance, ask yourself these three questions;
- Do we have 365 days every year?
- Do we have 24 hours every day?
- Do we have 60 seconds in every minute?
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Dates Are Complicated!
Well, the truth is that dates are complicated. Almost every other person knows that we do not have 365 days every year. However, very few people understand the rule that determines which year has 365 days and which one has 366.
The rule comes in three parts. Most parts of the globe rely on DST (Daylight Savings Time), meaning that some days might have 25 hours while others have 23 hours. Additionally, you can rarely notice when some minutes get 61 seconds. This happens when leap seconds are added due to the slowing down of the Earth’s rotation.
This makes dates difficult to understand. In addition, dates should reconcile two things – the Earth’s orbit around the sun as well as its rotation. Add DST, time zones, and even months into this. It only gets more complicated.
That notwithstanding, you will use dates every day, especially for people who record and analyze data. This does not mean that you should understand every aspect when it comes to dates as discussed above, but you need to understand different date formats, how to use them, and how to convert them from one format to another. But before then…
Get Familiar with Changing the Date Format in Your Software of Choice
Recording and analyzing data requires one to use different software applications. The choice of applications might be dictated by different factors, such as the data being recorded and analyzed, personal preferences, and the features offered by the software application.
That notwithstanding, you need to get familiar with changing the date format in whichever application you choose to use. This is important especially when it comes to generating insights from the data recorded.
For example, you are doing research that collects and records data from five different applications. All this data needs to be analyzed. Before that, you need to merge and format the data using a single application, for instance, Power BI.
Collecting this data from five different applications might present you with five different date formats. What do you do? Of course, you cannot generate any insights from the data if it is in different formats.
Well, using the power BI date format, you can convert the date formats to the same format for analysis. You can also convert other variables to any format that would make it easy for you to analyze the data.
Can You Show Varying Date Formats on Your Analyzed Data?
Imagine a situation where you have spent hours or even days analyzing data and have come up with a detailed report. Your report will be read by your company managers from different locales around the world. Do you know that they might be confused by your date formats?
For instance, the format MM/DD/YY is commonly used in the United States of America, and sometimes, in Canada. This is already creating some form of confusion. If you look at Europe, most countries use the DD/MM/YY format while some Asian countries such as Japan use the YY/MM/DD format.
The separators may also vary, with some people using periods, dashes, or slashes. If you have a Japanese manager going through the report, assuming that you have used the American format, you might leave him or her confused. So what do you do?
The Date Format You Should Use
When most people are faced with the problem discussed above, they assume that the application they are using will take care of the issues using localization. Even though some applications might fix this, you should not rely on them at all.
Others might be tempted to generate different copies to take care of all the localizations of their managers. This is a repetitive task that you need to avoid. What if you are generating one thousand reports for people in five localizations? This would mean you need five thousand reports to cover each one of them.
Fortunately, you can use one of the options below to handle this problem;
- Make the year and the month obvious
- Use a format neutral to all locales.
- Rely on the HTTP Accept-Language header for web content.
Making the year and month obvious means that you use four digits for the year numbers and a name, abbreviated or in full, for the month. For instance, 17 May 2022. This format is not ambiguous and most people find it friendly. They are comfortable using natural formats for their dates.
Unfortunately, this format takes up a lot of space and is not computer friendly especially when it comes to the sorting of data.
The format YYYY-MM-DD has been specified for use by ISO 8601. For instance, which between 2022-01-17 and 22/01/17 would you find more comfortable to read? You can also abbreviate the month in the format, for example, 2022-Jan-17 – this, however, does not make it neutral to all locales.
This format is not ambiguous and is computer-friendly, making data cleansing and sorting easy. Unfortunately, it takes up a lot of space and might not be friendly to some people.
Most people use the HTTP Accept-Language header when specifying the language of their users. However, it can also be used when setting the locale preferences of web content users.
In conclusion, there are different formats you can use for dates when recording and analyzing data. You, however, need to make sure that you have used a format that will not leave your audience confused. You can also convert the formats using different software applications to match your requirements.