Friday, September 11, 2009

Editing Tip # 12: Dashes

Kathy Ide’s Editing Tips
© Kathy Ide, 2009

In this column, freelance author, editor, and speaker Kathy Ide shares tips on self-editing your manuscript.


Two types of dashes are often used in book manuscripts:
em dash: —
en dash: –

According to The Chicago Manual of Style (Rule #6.90 & 6.91 in the 15th edition) and The Christian Writer’s Manual of Style (pp. 165–166), an em dash should be used to denote a sudden break in thought that causes an abrupt change in sentence structure. For example:
"Will he—can he—obtain the necessary signatures?"

The em dash is used to indicate that one person's speech has been interrupted by another.
"Well," he began, "I thought I might—"
"Might what?" Jayna interrupted.

The Chicago manual also states (#6.88) that a defining or enumerating complementary element in a sentence may be set off by dashes.
"Suzette could forgive every insult but the last—the snub by her coauthor."
"Three novelists—Francine Rivers, Angela Elwell Hunt, and Karen Kingsbury—have most influenced my own writing."

CMS (#6.87) and CWMS (p. 167) recommend that no more than a single dash (or pair of dashes) be used in a sentence. Dashes should be used sparingly throughout a manuscript.

The en dash (see CMS #6.83; CWMS p. 168) is used for connecting inclusive numbers, including dates, time, or reference numbers. Examples: 1981–1982 pages 31–33 Daniel 13:3–15


Some word processors can convert hyphens to dashes. In MS Word, go to Tools, AutoCorrect, AutoFormat. Put a check in "Symbol characters (--) with symbols (—)." Then:

To make an en dash, type a word, insert a space, then type a hyphen, then type the next letter or word followed by a space. Once the hyphen converts to an en dash, delete the spaces before and after it. To make an em dash, type a word (do not insert a space), then type a double-hyphen, then type the next letter or word followed by a space.

MS Word has keyboard shortcuts for dashes. For an en dash, hold down the Ctrl key and hit the hyphen on your number pad. For an em dash, hold the Ctrl and Alt keys, then hit the hyphen on your number pad.

If your computer can't convert, a hyphen may be used in place of an en dash, and a double-hyphen can be typed to represent an em dash, with no spaces before, after, or in between.

Note: For article manuscripts (per the Associated Press Stylebook), do not use the en dash. And insert a space before and after an em dash. For example: “Books — but not articles — use en dashes.”


NOTE: It is an infringement of copyright law to reproduce this
publication, in part or in whole, without the express permission of the
author. To request permission, please e-mail


Kathy Ide has been writing for publication since 1988. She has written books, articles, play and movie scripts, short stories, devotionals, and curriculum. She is a full-time freelance editor, offering a full range of editorial services for aspiring writers, established authors, commercial book publishers, subsidy publishers, and magazines. Her services include proofreading, copyediting, substantive/content editing, coauthoring, ghostwriting, and mentoring/coaching. She also speaks at writers’ conferences across the country. She is the founder and coordinator of The Christian PEN: Proofreaders and Editors Network ( and the Christian Editor Network ( To find out more, please visit

1 comment:

Lynnette Bonner said...

Thanks for the info on dashes! :)