Making a Date

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Using date fields in Word

Users generally have one of two problems with dates in documents, which can be summed up as follows:

  • I put the date at the top of my letter using Insert | Date. Why doesn’t the date update to the current date when I later print the letter?

  •  I don’t want the date on my letter to change every time I print a copy. How can I make it stay the same?

There are various ways to get a date into a document. Obviously, the most straightforward is to just type it in. If you have AutoComplete enabled on the AutoText tab of Tools | AutoCorrect Options (Word 2003 and earlier only), you'll even find that Word tries to help you do this (though you may not always find this “help” very helpful; and if you live outside the United States, you will never find it helpful, because all language versions of Word use U.S. date format! Unfortunately, there is no way of turning this feature off unless you turn AutoComplete off completely).

This articles discusses options for inserting dates beyond just typing them in.

Insert | Date

The method that most users discover first is the Date and Time command on the Insert menu, which opens the Date and Time dialog. (In Word 2007/2010/2013, access this dialog using Insert | Text | Date and Time.)

Date and Time dialog

Figure 1. The Date and Time dialog

If you insert a date from the Date and Time dialog, you have two options:

  1. The default is to enter plain text. This is the same as typing the date into the document yourself, just a little quicker if you’re a poor typist or don’t know the date.

  2. If you check the box for “Update automatically,” Word will insert a { DATE } field, which will always reflect the current system date. It may not be updated when you open a document, but if you have the “Update fields” option checked in Tools | Options | Print (Office Button | Word Options | Display: Update fields before printing in Word 2007; File | Options | Display: Update fields before printing in Word 2010), it will be updated when you print. You can lock the field by selecting it and pressing Ctrl+F11 (unlock it with Ctrl+Shift+F11), or you can unlink it (convert it to ordinary text) with Ctrl+Shift+F9, but it’s easier just to insert the date as plain text in the first place if that’s what you want.

Note: The keyboard shortcut for inserting a { DATE } field is Alt+Shift+D; it always inserts a date in the format you have chosen as the default in the Date and Time dialog. Set the default by selecting a format and clicking Default…, then answering Yes in the ensuing dialog.

Other Date Fields

In addition to the { DATE } field that can be inserted from the Date and Time dialog, Word has several other date fields. You can either insert these in either of two ways:

  • Use the Field dialog (this is the easiest option for novices).

  • IWord 2003 and earlier: Go to Insert | Field… and select the desired type of date field (of those listed below) and the desired format (in some earlier versions, you’ll need to select Options to see these formats).

  • Word 2007 and above: Reach the Field dialog via Insert | Text | Quick Parts | Field… The dialog is the same as in previous versions.

Field dialog

Figure 2. The Field dialog

  • Create the fields “by hand” by pressing Ctrl+F9 to insert the field delimiters (which look like braces but cannot be entered from the keyboard) and then type the text between them. Once you become accustomed to the appearance of date fields (by examining the field codes of those you insert from the Field dialog), you will be able to create them from scratch, including the necessary switches.

CreateDate

Perhaps the most useful date field is the { CREATEDATE } field, which permanently records the date a document was created. At first glance this might not seem very different from plain text, but if you put this field in a template, each document based on it will automatically have the date it was created. Or, if you sometimes copy an old letter to form the basis for a new one (in effect using it as a template), the same will apply.

SaveDate

Another useful field is the { SAVEDATE } field, which records when the document was last saved. If your document contains information that is frequently updated and you want it to carry a revision date, this is the one to use.

Important Note: Whenever you print a document containing fields, they will be updated. This action causes Word to regard the document as having changed, so when you close it, even if you have just opened it and printed it and not made any (to your mind) changes, you will be asked if you want to save it. Just say no! Otherwise you'll have invalidated the revision date.

PrintDate

The { PRINTDATE } field is another one with some usefulness. Since it is updated only when the document is printed, you will be able to open a document and tell from this date when it was last printed. In this case, however, you must save the document after the field is updated (that is, after printing).

Formatting Date Fields

All the above fields can be formatted as you choose.

  • In the Field dialog in Word 2002 and above, you can select the desired format from the same list you saw in the Date and Time dialog (see Figure 2).

  • In Word 2000 and earlier, select one of the Date and Time fields and press the “Options...” button. You will see various “switches” that can be added to the field to make it print anything from “12/31/99” to Friday, December 31, 1999, 11:59:59 PM.” 1

Although Word makes it relatively easy to format date fields by choosing a variety of built-in switches, sometimes you’ll need to customize your own. The following instructions are therefore offered to help you (all these instructions and more can be found in Word’s Help file under “switches, reference”).

Date instructions

Month (M)

The letter “M” must be uppercase to distinguish months from minutes.

Picture item

Displays the month as

M

A number without a leading 0 (zero) for single-digit months. For example, July is 7.

MM

A number with a leading 0 (zero) for single-digit months. For example, July is 07.

MMM

A three-letter abbreviation. For example, July is Jul.

MMMM

The full name of the month. For example, July.

Day (d)

Displays the day of the month or the day of the week. The letter “d” can be either uppercase or lowercase.

Picture item

Displays the month as

d

A number without a leading 0 (zero) for single-digit days. For example, the sixth day of the month is displayed as 6.

dd

A number with a leading 0 (zero) for single-digit days. For example, the sixth day of the month is displayed as 06.

ddd

A three-letter abbreviation. For example, Tuesday is displayed as Tue.

dddd

The full name of the day of the week. For example, Tuesday.

Year (y)

Displays the year as two or four digits. The letter “y” can be either uppercase or lowercase.

Picture item

Displays the month as

yy

Two digits with a leading 0 (zero) for years 01 through 09. For example, 1995 is displayed as 95, and 2006 is displayed as 06.

yyyy

Four digits.

Time instructions

Hours (h)

A lowercase “h” bases time on the 12-hour clock. An uppercase “H” bases time on the 24-hour, or military, clock; for example, 5 P.M. is displayed as “17”.

Picture item

Displays the hour

h or H

Without a leading 0 (zero) for single-digit hours. For example, the hour of 9 A.M. is displayed as 9.

hh or HH

With a leading 0 (zero) for single-digit hours. For example, the hour of 9 A.M. is displayed as 09.

Minutes (m)

The letter “m” must be lowercase to distinguish minutes from months.

Picture item

Displays minutes

m

Without a leading 0 (zero) for single-digit minutes. For example, 
    {
TIME \@ "m" }
displays
2.

mm

With a leading 0 (zero) for single-digit minutes. For example,
    { TIME \@ "mm" }
displays
02.

Seconds (ss)

Although seconds can be added to any DATE or TIME field, some fields ignore them. For example, the field

{ TIME  \@ "M/d/yyyy h:mm:ss am/pm" }

will display seconds accurately, but most DATE fields will always display 00 for the seconds.

AM/PM

Displays AM and PM in the format you have selected as the Windows defaults.2

Note that the Help topic on this switch is incorrect. Regardless of whether you insert “AM/PM”, “am/pm”, “A/P”, or “a/p”, the Windows default format will be displayed (usually AM or PM). So the following fields give identical results:

{ TIME \@ "h A/P" }
{ DATE \@ "h am/pm" } 3

Ordinal numbers in dates

Occasionally a user wants to format a date as, say, December 31st, 1999, or 31st December 1999. Although these formats are not regarded as correct by most U.S. style manuals, they are prescribed (or at least accepted) in some European countries, and are in very common use in the UK (reflecting spoken English, in which dates are always pronounced with ordinals).

To achieve this in Word you will need a combination of either two or three date fields. The reason you need more than one is that you will need to add the \* Ordinal switch to just the day part of the field. To achieve the two dates given above, you would need:

{ DATE \@ "MMMM" } { DATE \@ "d" \* Ordinal }, { DATE \@ "yyyy" }
{ DATE \@ "d" \* Ordinal } { DATE \@ " MMMM yyyy" }

__________________

1.

You'll actually have to do a little surgery to achieve this one. You'll need to select both the "dddd, MMMM d, yyyy" and the "h:mm:ss am/pm" options and add both to the field. If you then press OK, you'll get an error message (too many picture switches). What you must therefore do (in the text entry box on the Options tab of the Field dialog) is take out the second \@ and the quotes on either side of it and put a comma after "yyyy." This should give you the result illustrated.

2.

To change the AM and PM symbols for Windows, change the settings in the Regional and Language Options dialog in the Windows Control Panel: Click the Start button, point to Settings, and then Control Panel. Double-click the Regional and Language Options icon, and then click Customize and select the Time tab. Enter the formats you want in the AM symbol and PM symbol boxes.

3.

Notice that it really makes no difference whether you use the { DATE } or { TIME } field; the result will depend on the numeric formatting picture switch you add.

This article copyright © 2001, 2009, 2011, 2014 by Suzanne S. Barnhill. Originally published at http://word.mvps.org.