Once at a writers’ conference, I met with one of the speakers. I asked if he would provide feedback on an article I wrote. He readily agreed and carefully read my composition.
After a few minutes, he informed me I had incorrectly formatted my dash. That was his only criticism. Then he listed what he liked about my work. It seems we are not only judged by the words we use, but also by how we format our sentences.
I never took keyboarding in school—I took typing. (It was a fortuitous decision, given that a couple of years later the first PCs were introduced, followed by the first Word Processors.)
In typing class I was taught that to represent a dash, I should type “space,” “hyphen,” and “space.” Others advocated “space-hyphen-hyphen-space.” When you type either combination in Microsoft Word, it automatically turns it into a dash [an “en-dash”]. This is what I had done.
Alternately, you can just type “hyphen, hyphen” without the spaces, which Word will also convert to a dash, albeit a much longer one [an em-dash]. This is what I have been seeing lately in publications—and I find it most disconcerting since it looks to me like a hyphenated word and not a dash; it makes the sentence hard to read. This is why I don’t use em-dashes in my publications.
This post, by the way, uses en-dashes—which is how I like it.
Peter DeHaan is an author, publisher, and editor. He gives back to the writing community through this blog. Get insider info from his monthly newsletter. Sign up today!