17 July 2016

Don't be slap-dash with dashes

Using dashes correctly and consistently can add to the professionalism of your business writing. Here is a quick lesson on how to use dashes correctly, and how to create dashes using your keyboard and in Word.

I need to say upfront that hyphens (-) are not dashes!

There are two types of dashes: en dashes (–) and em dashes (—).

En dashes are used as a linking device for things like time and distance, for example: pages 125–200. They can also be used as an association between separate words, for example: Asia–Pacific region.

Em dashes are used to indicate an abrupt change, to provide additional or explanatory information, or to isolate statements within a sentence. Em dashes have more emphasis than a comma, are less formal than a colon, and can be used similarly to parenthesis. For example:

Your business headshot should reflect your professionalism—no snapshots or family photos.

Choosing the right colour profile—CMYK, RGB, PMS—is the essential first step in creating a beautiful image.

It is now commonly accepted to use an en dash with spaces either side, instead of an em dash, like so – just make sure you use en or em dashes consistently, according to your business writing style.

How to create dashes using your keyboard

On a PC

To create dashes on a PC the numbers below must be typed on the numeric keypad (not the numbers above the letters).
En dash: press ‘ALT’ + ‘0150’
Em dash: press ‘ALT’ + ‘0151’

On a Mac

En dash: press ‘OPTION’ + ‘-‘ (minus key)
Em dash: press ‘OPTION’ + ‘SHIFT’ + ‘-‘ (minus key)

How to create dashes in Word
Word will automatically change two consecutive hyphens between text into an em dash, and a hyphen with a space before and a space after, into an en dash.

You can also find en and em dashes in Special characters. Go to the Insert menu and click Symbol, then More symbols and you will get to the Special characters tab.

Now there is no excuse for being slap-dash with dashes—and please, no hyphens!

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