Dashes are a helpful writing tool. Often they are used to insert an explanatory phrase – like I’m doing here – but not always. They can be used when writing number spans, such as pp. 102–105. And they can also be used in dialogue, to separate L-E-T-T-E-R-S, or to join two words that are connected to modify a noun, such as “on-off switch”.
But, did you know that there are different types of dashes, different ways to format them, and – depending on where you live – varying style guidelines?
Today, as I was doing some final proofing to my upcoming book, Voices from the Past: Stories of North Roe, I realized that I use a lot of dashes in my writing, and so did my great-grandfather, Peter. But what are the different types called, and how should you format them in your text?
There are three different types of dashes:
Regardless of country, for numbers or time, when you would use the word 'to', use a hyphen in between, with no spaces. For example, "The meeting will run from 3:30-5:30 p.m."
According to my research, in the UK the en-dash is preferred for explanatory phrases, with a space before and after. In the US the em-dash seems to be used, without the spaces. So, you may wish to adapt your style depending on where your audience is located.
I've included a short excerpt from Peter's diary in Voices from the Past to show the difference between the en-dash and the em-dash. I think I prefer the spaces, so off I go to switch over hundreds of em-dashes into en-dashes!
So, which style do you prefer? The en-dash or the em-dash? Which one do you think is easiest to read?
Some recommended resources: