28. February 2023 - Jeffrey A. McGuire

DATE, the OSP editorial code. Podcast 11

How we create evergreen and accessible communication through one of OSP's favorite Editing Codes: DATE

In this episode, host Carl Richards interviews Felicity Brand, Christine Beuhler, and Jeffrey A. "jam" McGuire. We discuss using the Editing Code DATE to roll out the welcome mat and give our writing a long shelf life.

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Stay current and relevant — the DATE Editing Code

The DATE Editing Code falls in the Process phase D. Word Choice, the Category Accuracy & Terminology, and OSP Pillar Clarity. Our entry defines it thus:

Stay current and relevant, don’t date your content. ("Last September," "earlier this year," etc.)

“DATE is a deceptively simple code. Of course, we want to keep our content relevant and current, which is a big part of why we use DATE. But there are more layers to it than that,” says Felicity Brand, one of OSP’s Communication Consultants.

DATE also includes making your work easily accessible and self-contained. If you refer to happenings from the past, you risk alienating your new readers. We don’t want to give readers FOMO — they have to deal with that in plenty of other aspects of their lives! Provide all the information readers need on a platter so that they can situate themselves quickly and easily in your content. 

The idea for the DATE Code emerged when Jam, OSP’s co-founder, worked at Drupal. “My boss pointed out to me that certain ways of writing content give it a short shelf life,” he says, “There's a lot of content that we want to be relevant as long as it's still accurate. You can look out for DATE opportunities in several simple ways.” 

No year references: “Don't write ‘next year’ or ‘this year.’” 

No season references: “Saying ‘this summer’ or ‘this winter’ means two different things when you’re in Australia vs. Berlin.”

But with every rule, there’s a time it makes sense to break it. “If your content is about a specific conference, party, or event, then it’s fine to make DATE references,” says Jam. 


DATE: “Sulu’s blocks have a lot of benefits and we’ve just published a guide to show how they work.”

++DATE: “Sulu’s blocks have a lot of benefits and we recommend you read our guide to understand how they work.”

Using DATE

As an editor

DATE is generally easy to spot and highlight as an editor. “In the editing process, I use the DATE code to ask the author questions to let them reflect and decide on the best course of action. In most cases, it can be resolved by choosing different words or rephrasing a sentence,” says Felicity.

Editors are also doing the higher-level work of reflecting on the overall purpose of a piece and making sure that it’s clear to readers. “If the function of a piece is tied to time in some way, that’s a good opportunity for me to think about the DATE Code and how it applies,” says Jam

As a writer

We don’t suggest eschewing time altogether. “It's not a cardinal sin to reference time. We live in a linear, temporal society, and time moves forward,” Felicity acknowledges. This means there are instances when it’s more than appropriate to reference time. “If I am inviting my readers to take action within a certain timeframe, I think time words are appropriate,” says Jam. Examples could be buying an event ticket, getting a coupon discount, a press release, or a software update. But most content doesn’t need a timestamp. Instead, as a writer, ensure you provide sufficient context for the reader so they don’t feel like they’re coming in cold.

As a reader

Good writing is engaging, honest, clear, and crisp, and most importantly, makes readers want to keep reading. Those qualities are necessary, and they don’t fluctuate over time. “The truth and helpfulness of a piece of writing remain stable,” says Jam. “A well-written and researched piece of content is still useful and relevant, no matter how old it is,” agrees Felicity. 

Additionally, time references can unintentionally sidetrack your reader. “Don’t let time words distract readers from the important part of what you're saying to them,” adds Jam.

Creating timeless communication takes practice — join us!

Keep an eye on the DATE Editing Code to make your communication self-contained and welcoming to all readers.

To get in touch with us, follow what we're doing, or learn about our Writer Enablement Workshops, email us at hello@openstrategypartners.com, or hit us up on Twitter, Facebook, or Linkedin.

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Episode Transcript

From the robot transcription mines, we bring you at least some words from our episode in an order that might or might not reflect our intentions. 

Carl Richards  0:07  
Hi, I’m Carl from OSP and this is communicate connect grow the OSP podcast. On today's episode, we're talking about avoiding dating your content with the editing code date. If you want to be a more effective writer, a more transparent editor, develop clear strategic thinking or learn from our network of expert friends and colleagues. That's what we're here for. We divide our episodes across three themes, communicate, connect, and grow. This is a communicate episode, and we're talking about keeping your content current with our editorial code date. The DATE editing code falls into the word choice phase of the editing process. And it's about keeping your content self contained. In our documentation about this code, it says stay current and relevant. Don't date your content with phrases like last September, earlier this year. And recently,

Christine Beuhler: 1:21

I'm Christine Bueller. I'm a Communication Consultant on the team at open strategy partners. And my day to day is working on writing and editing and various pieces of communication for our clients. So the editing code DATE just means don't date your content, keep it evergreen, don't say things like in 2019 or last month. That's what it means.

Felicity Brand: 2:01

G'day, I'm Felicity brand. I am a writer and editor at open strategy partners. The DATE editing code in a nutshell, we say don't date your content. I think DATE is a deceptively simple code. So there's a few layers to it, I think the idea is to keep your content self contained. Don't assume reader knowledge. So there's this school of thought in technical communication, which is abbreviated to EPO, which stands for every page is page one. So that's what I mean by keeping your content self contained, and being aware of context. So we're going to dig into this. But essentially, with date, you don't want to alienate your audience by obliquely referencing things, actions or content from the past. So you want to as the writer, make it easy for your readers, you've got to do the hard work, make it easy for your readers so that they feel comfortable consuming your content without feeling like they've missed out on something or they're coming in in the middle of a party that is referencing things from before, or events that they've missed out on the DATE code. It's about more than staying relevant and current. It's about doing the work as an author to make it easy for your readers. And that work is shoring up your content so that it's self contained. If you refer to things happening from the past, you risk alienating your readers, you don't want to make them dig around to understand what you're referring to. So provide it all on a platter so that the reader can situate themselves in your content. A lot of content this these days has a publish date. But other content may not such as that an a case studies landing pages. So a date timestamp is a powerful and clear marker of the age of your content. So you can rely on that and you shouldn't bake in references to the past or future in your sentences. If you've got an article on blog, that's aging, if you need to, you can come back and update it later. There is some evidence that double touching of pages improves SEO search engine optimization. Anyway, some examples of referencing time in your content might be earlier this year, recently, coming soon. Last September.

Jeffrey A. McGuire: 4:32

Hey, this is Jeffrey A McGuire. I'm a co founder at open strategy partners. Yes, it's all my fault. The editing code DATE comes from a time in my career when I was still in engineering at what was becoming a very successful startup. It was before I made my official job move to marketing and communications. A big part of my job was writing documentation for the Drupal content management system that was was the subject of what we were doing, as well as some in house software and enhancements and ways to use Drupal. And my boss pointed out to me that certain ways of writing content, give it a short shelf life, there's a lot of content that we want to be relevant as, as long as it's still accurate. So don't date your content. And this comes down to a couple of simple things to look out for. Don't write next year, don't write this year. Also to not be hemisphere. Just don't write about seasons, by the way, don't say this summer or this winter, because in Australia, and in Berlin, those mean two different things. In any case, be careful about whether your content should be dated or not. If it's about a specific conference, a specific party, a specific event, something then of course, hey, September 2021, this thing is happening middle of the year, whatever or software release, as soon as you're writing content that could be valuable or interesting, or help people make a decision later, you should avoid the temptation to say new, better recent, all of those kinds of words.

Carl Richards: 6:10

As an editor, how would you use this writing code in your work day

Christine Beuhler: 6:14

as an editor, using the DATE editing code is pretty simple. When I'm making my way through a piece in stages, I'll just be scanning and highlighting any examples of dating which I don't really have to do that often. Because it's everyone knows not to do it at open strategy partners. Generally, I don't have to use it that much. Every once in a while, a date might sneak its way in. But for the most part, everyone's got a handle on it. I don't end up highlighting any examples of the year before or three years ago,

Felicity Brand: 7:01

when I'm working as an editor. Usually, the DATE code stands out pretty easily, it's easy to spy. And I think that's just down to an editor having a fresh pair of eyes. And generally it's quite easy to remove the offending content. In the editing process. I do use the DATE code to ask questions of the author to let them reflect and decide on the best course of action. So in some cases, including reference to time could be part of a broader strategy. That's where we're hanging content on a timeframe. But in most cases, I think content with the DATE code can be resolved by choosing different words, just reef rephrasing a sentence. And those word choices are usually about being clear and being more specific, rather than being vague. So rather than say, last September, give the exact date the sixth of September 1975.

Jeffrey A. McGuire: 7:57

As an editor, one of the calls I'm making when I am preparing to look at a piece to see if there's anything I can do for it is to understand its purpose. So we not only have to understand who it's written for, what challenges they have, and all that stuff that we prepare and think about when we have strategy planning, make a brief write an outline, and so on, I need to understand the function of the piece and what it's tied to. In my mind, somehow there are pieces that are time bound, and have an expiry date. And there are pieces that can go on for some longer amount of time, maybe not forever, but maybe as long as the version of the software is still supported. Or maybe as long as people like cheese or I mean, we don't have a cheese client right now, but reach out. So the function of the piece for me somehow in my brain, there's a voice that says this piece should avoid time words, or can have time words.

Carl Richards: 8:56

In your draft editing as a writer, here's how you can explore this code.

Christine Beuhler: 9:01

As a writer, when I'm using the DATE editing code, unless it's something that is time sensitive, like a press release or update to a system, we try to make sure that our pieces our evergreen, which just means that they are staying relevant throughout their lifetime. Part of that is you know, just making sure that the things we're talking about are sort of timeless, common sense advice that is not going to become irrelevant.

Felicity Brand: 9:39

When we think about the DATE code. When you're writing. It's not a cardinal sin to reference time we live in a linear temporal society, and time moves forward. The key with this code is about avoiding dating your content as much as possible. You want to keep everything current and relevant. So Rather than saying recently, you added date, if readers come to your content in six months time from search engine recently will have lost all meaning. So that means the author needs to do the hard work of making the content self contained by establishing context, and not assuming reader knowledge. obliquely, referencing code sprints from three months ago, may seem like a good idea in terms of creating a feeling of shared knowledge in a community, but a reader coming in cold is going to feel on the outer and may fear that they're missing key information. So rely on context, be specific about your dates, and try to remember that you're welcoming all readers,

Jeffrey A. McGuire: 10:43

as a writer, essentially, if I am suggesting or inviting my readers to take action, and that action needs to be within a certain timeframe. So buy an event ticket, get a coupon discount on something, perhaps make plans, somehow, I think time words are appropriate. There is however, a majority of the content that we do, I think that doesn't need time words, because that'll just make it feel out of place or out of context, or somehow help it expire when it doesn't need to so so we really try and avoid new and improved in the sense of time, or recently, or next month are those time words that don't make any sense. If there's not a publishing date on that I can see on the page, or I don't know if it was written in 2017, or 2021. So you need to understand whether your piece is sitting in a certain moment in time. And that's important, or it has a function that's not tied to a particular time.

Carl Richards: 11:53

As a reader, here's why this editing code might be really important

Christine Beuhler: 11:57

for a reader the DATE editing code, I think it just gives them some assurance that the piece is not a relevant and that it's still applies. If you're reading through a blog, and it says three years ago, I mean, technology moves at a pretty fast clip. And it's possible that they're going to look for something more relevant and think like, oh, this doesn't apply anymore. Yeah, I think for the readers, just just making sure that what they're reading is relevant, and it's still applicable to today,

Felicity Brand: 12:38

one of the first things I usually do as a reader is look for a date timestamp on a piece of writing, I don't discount content that is many years old. I just like to know the context, I like to know when it was written, I think words written 10 years ago, if they're well written and well researched, still useful and relevant. So dating your content in that way isn't bad, you just don't want to bake it into your sentences. As a reader, I appreciate when the author has made things clear for me. So I don't have to work hard to understand and want to feel included. Even if I didn't attend that event or know about that product launch. If the relevance is explained, I can still consume that content that refers to them. There are some words that indicate time, when I'm editing and thinking about the DATE code, it's important to look for words that aren't obvious time words. For example, I saw a sentence recently, that was something like, you know, X product has a lot of benefits. And we've just published a guide to show you how they work. So that weren't just is implying time. We've recently published a guide. And when I was editing that I suggested, we remove that word just because people learning on this article in six months time, it's not really relevant that you've published that recently. So we changed, the author and I arrived at a solution for that to just change the words, x product has a lot of benefits, and we recommend you read our guide to understand how they work tip for young players. There are words that aren't obviously about time that can still indicate time that can still date your content.

Jeffrey A. McGuire: 14:18

There are a whole series of kinds of communication that do really well to have a date on them best laser printers of 2021 your candidates for the 2022 election. The new software released that happened on such and such a date means that you will be supported three years for free until such and such those are all located in a place in time. However, when we're talking about the advantages of choosing a particular piece of software, when we're talking about the business challenges that our clients product could help address and the outcomes that would be better If I can help a CTO, a CFO, a developer, understand that I see them and their challenges and I and I'm suggesting that we could give them these benefits. It doesn't matter if they're reading that next week, or in two years, the truth and the helpfulness of that can remain stable and you don't want to confuse them by using words that say something about this year or next year or that distracts them from the important part of what you're saying to them.

Carl Richards: 15:46

Next time you're writing, be mindful of word choices that contain references to time. Oh, and speaking of time, yesterday, I bought six watches, you could say I have a lot of time on my hands. How do you use DATE in your writing? Share your examples or questions with us via Twitter at open underscore strategy or email Hello at open strategy partners.com. This was one of the editorial codes we use at OSP. If you'd like to learn more in the meantime, come on over to open strategy partners.com Have a look at our writer enablement workshops case study offering for get in touch to talk about your strategy or product communication needs. Thanks to everyone who contributed to this podcast, all the peas that OSP thanks to our clients who believe in us. Shout out to Patrick Golmaal for our high energy maple syrup, flavor theme music and to Mike snow for additional horn arrangements. Thank you for listening and subscribing. About our three themes on the podcast, you’ll hear different members of the OSP team hosting episodes over time, communicate all things communication. We share how we tackle writing, editing, word choices, formats, processes, and more. Connect in depth conversations with interesting smart people about who they are, what they do, and how they approach their life and work as communicators, technologists and leaders grow. We cover approaches to understanding and expressing the value of what you do, including tools, templates, and practical applications. We also feel strongly about building a mindful positive human first culture at work that’s bound to pop up from time to time to this podcast is us figuring out communication connection and growing together. Subscribe now on YouTube, Apple podcasts or the podcast channel of your choice. Follow us suggest guests and topics. Ask us questions on social media. We are at open underscore strategy on Twitter. Until next time, I’m Carl Richards and this is the OSP podcast.

Felicity Brand: 18:39

Give the exact date the sixth of September 1975. Okay, that was a terrible example. Why didn't I say 2019 ... 1970!

Jeffrey A. McGuire: 18:58

Here's a good example. It's late October 2021. And dates are in season right now. And I am really enjoying them in every year. I buy several kilos over the course of a couple of months. But if I just said dates are in season, somehow, or mentioned that out of context that wouldn't help anybody. I'm not sure that's a great outtake


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