Dashes Done Right
- On September 24, 2014
It’s fun to write with dashes. Tack one on and dash off another thought. Problem is we tend to tack on one too many, which makes our copy look as if it’s had one too many.
Here’s how not to get slapdash:
Know there are two kinds of dashes: the em dash and the shorter en dash. The em dash—the one most used and abused—comes in pairs or as one.
A pair of em dashes includes information that adds emphasis to a sentence or an aside, as in:
• The recreational approach he and the president take to the golf course—“It is the only time I can get four or five hours outside, and I don’t have the option to take long walks through a city,” Mr. Obama said—infuriates advocates of the Bill Clinton and Lyndon B. Johnson school of golf, in which the green is a lush cell for politicking.
The sentence inside the pair of em dashes underscores the point that President Obama likes to play golf to relax.
• Good looks and neat dress—rarely the hallmark of print journalists—are also important to Mr. Ryan.
Here, the em dashes set off a side note about the sartorial preferences of Fred Ryan, the new publisher of The Washington Post.
A single em dash can move the reader from the general to the specific, as in:
• A high-quality question tests for conceptual, not factual understanding—not “When did the Great Depression occur?” but “What economic, social and political factors led to the Great Depression?”
A single em dash also can mark a turn in content or a break in structure, as in:
• Everybody tells you to write about what you know. Fair enough—but what about what you imagine?
As I was writing this bulletin, I received a slapdash email filled with unnecessary dashes that appeared as hyphens. (Hyphens join compound words and split words at the end of a line. That’s it.)
• If you’re a parent, you’ve likely received the all-too-familiar frantic phone call: “Help! My computer crashed – and I lost my term paper!” This back-to-school season turn stress into success – protect your student’s computer with Carbonite Online Backup. That way, no matter what happens, students can rest easy knowing their important files – like term papers, projects & more – are safe.
I edited it and removed all the dashes.
• If you’re a parent, you’ve likely received the all-too-familiar frantic phone call: “Help! My computer crashed and I lost my term paper.” This back-to-school season turn stress into success by protecting your student’s computer with Carbonite Online Backup. That way, no matter what happens, students can rest easy knowing important files like term papers are safe.
The en dash is used mainly to indicate a range of numbers, as in:
• I will be on vacation August 1 – August 15.
• Please read pages 10 – 15 of the deck to prepare for tomorrow’s presentation.
The en dash also designates relationships, as in:
• The Israeli – Palestinian conflict
• The East – West divide
• The mother – daughter bond