Hyphens and Dashes

Dashes are part of a professional writer’s toolbox. They are used to create pauses and indicate strength of words. If you want to up your blogging or content game, get comfortable knowing when to correctly use them.

Hyphen

The hyphen, the shortest dash, is probably the most misused. People insert it in place of longer dashes or type two hyphens rather than a long dash. Today, say “no more” to incorrectly used hyphens! You want to look like you know what you’re doing, right?

A hyphen’s most common use is for compound adjectives: when two words are combined to create a single adjective:

  • four-foot table
  • 10-page report
  • 3-year-old child

A hyphen should never be used in place of an en or em dash. It doesn’t read well. I see this a lot in online writing. A hyphen where an em dash should be always trips me up. Don’t make your reader go back and reread a line!

En Dash

An en dash is slightly longer than the hyphen. It’s used to indicate space between times and dates, and is read as “to” or “through”:

  • 4 – 6 p.m. (4 to 6 p.m.)
  • 2000 – 2016 (2000 to 2016)
  • Monday – Thursday (Monday through Thursday)

AP Style requires a space before and after the en dash.

Emily Dickinson was fond of placing em dashes at the end of a line, and her work became easily recognizable because of this.

Em Dash

The em dash is one of my favorite punctuation marks. It’s a long dash that can be used to break up a sentence — especially when what follows the em dash is closely related to what’s before it. The em dash is read as a strong pause, similar to a period. There are several ways to use an em dash.

In place of commas

If you want to make a nonrestrictive clause stand out, use em dashes rather than commas, like this:

  • Mary, who was completely unprepared, saved our haphazard presentation with some skillful ad-libbing and landed the new client.
  • Mary — who was completely unprepared — saved our haphazard presentation with some skillful ad-libbing and landed the new client.

The em dashes give more weight to the words between them. They indicate that it’s important for you to know that Mary was unprepared.

In place of parentheses
  • Bob adopted his dog (a Golden Doodle) from a local animal shelter.
  • Bob adopted his dog — a Golden Doodle — from a local animal shelter.

As with replacing commas, the em dashes here indicate importance to the breed of dog.

In place of a colon

Similarly, a colon can be replaced with an em dash when emphasis is needed.

  • Snow, sleet, freezing rain: this is the forecast for the weekend.
  • Snow, sleet, freezing rain — this is the forecast for the weekend.
In quotes

Lastly, em dashes are inserted between a quote and its speaker.

  • “To be or not to be, that is the question.” — Hamlet

Compare this:

  • “To be or not to be, that is the question.” – – Hamlet

If you’re still not convinced what the big deal is about using hyphens, ask yourself which one of the above looks more professional? Set yourself apart from what the majority of others are doing incorrectly.

Formatting

The proper way to use insert em dashes, according to AP Style, are with a space before and after. Academic style guides such as MLA and APA require no spaces. Personally, I like the way the em dash looks with the spaces. I think it’s more readable.

How to create em dashes on your computer keyboard

There are several ways to do this. Microsoft Word automatically creates en and em dashes when you make the following keystrokes:

En dash:

Word → space → two hyphens → space → next word.

When you hit the space bar after the next word, an en dash is created.

 

Em dash:

Word → two hyphens → word.

When you hit the space bar after the next word, an em dash is created. If you are using AP Style, you can then go back and insert spaces before and after the dash.

Numeric Keys:

En dash = Alt + 0150

Em dash = Alt + 0151

Hold the Alt key down and enter the numeric keys. When you release the Alt key, the dashes are formed.

Character Map

character-map

The character map, found in the Windows 10 start menu under “Windows Accessories,” can be used to copy and paste en and em dashes. Once the character map is open, choose the font you are using. Then, scroll through that font until you find the en or em dash. You then select and copy the character and you can paste it into your document or text. This is the most time-consuming method, but some laptop keyboards do not allow the creation of these dashes with the Alt and numeric keys. So if you’re not using MS Word or a desktop computer, you may have to use the character map to insert them.

em-dash

 

 

 

 

 

Phone

Luckily, our mobile devices provide an easy way to insert en and em dashes. I discussed this in my previous post.

 

 

 

 

Pro Writing Tools — On Your Phone?

Did you know you can make an em dash and en dash on your phone’s keyboard? As a professional writer, I was really excited about this feature when I discovered it. But anyone can — and should — use this feature when posting to professional social media or your business blog from your phone.

  • Go to your phone’s keyboard and choose the numbers display.
  • Find the hyphen. Now, press and hold the button.
  • A menu pops up that shows the em (long) dash on the left, underscore in the middle, and en (medium) dash on the right. (There’s also a tiny bullet dot on the far right.)
  • Just slide your finger to the one you want to insert, and let go.

 

emdashphone

I know, right? How cool is that?

Why should you use an em or en dash rather than just a regular old hyphen? There are several important reasons, which I’ll discuss in my next post!

Five Ways a Communications Professional Can Help Your Business

We all know the feeling. You need to create a blog post, update your website, send a weekly email to your followers, and post on your social media sites. Who has time for all that? Because you are busy with your main job — managing your business — these “extra” tasks are often moved to the back burner. When you do finally get a chance to do them, they are done hurriedly with no plan or structure because, after all, you ARE a busy business owner with one hundred other things that need your attention every day.

 A Communications Professional / Editor can help you with these tasks in the following ways.

 1. Proofread and edit your blog posts for punctuation, grammar, usage, and sentence structure.

 Don’t be fooled by people who claim to be versed in writing blog posts. Your friend who offers to proofread your stuff may mean well, but unless she’s highly experienced and/or credentialed in writing and editing and familiar with a specific style (AP, Chicago, etc.), chances are that her efforts will fall short of what you need professionally.  An editor’s job is not to make your posts sound “snobby;” they will adapt to your voice while making sure that your posts don’t look as though a third grader wrote them. This means your point will be clear and easy to read.

 2. Proofread your website.

 A trained eye looking over your website content is both smart and necessary. Your website is the world’s view of your business – so you want your brand to be strongly evident. Any errors or words that can be misread here will be magnified 1000 times. An editor can tweak the content to represent you in the best way possible.

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3. Create content for media kits and flyers.

All printed material you release to the public should represent you well. An editor will make sure that it does.

 4. Advise you on social media posts

 Because of the informal nature of social media, many business owners make the mistake of assuming that posts on Facebook or other social media sites are not as important as other aspects of their business. This could not be further from the truth. In fact, it’s even more important on social media, because what you put out there is exposed to the entire world — and it’s there forever. Your business presence on social media should be approached in the same manner as your print information – with professionalism. Posts should contain correct spelling and grammar with no typos and represent your brand accordingly.

 Additionally, your business posts should be less informal than what you would post on your personal social media account. Posting insensitive or rude comments could actually lose customers. A Communications Professional can advise you on what is appropriate content for business posts.

 5. Ad content

 Don’t rely on the organization publishing your print ad to proofread it. I once saw a print ad for a coffee house with the misspelling “expresso” for “espresso.” Online ads are no different. Just because an ad appears online does not make the content less important. Don’t make a mistake with advertising — have a skilled editor look it over first.