Mark Twain

Proofreaders’ Marks

It’s a little-known fact that dashes come in different sizes. Most folks know about the hyphen, but fewer are familiar with the em dash and the en dash. The length of the em dash corresponds to the width of the letter m: . The en dash is the width of the letter n: . The hyphen’s just an itty bitty thing: . Here they are side by side:

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Now, when you’re typing away in a word processor and fire off a couple of hyphens in a row, they’ll magically change into an em dash…most of the time. Sometimes, however, you’ll end up with a couple of hooligan hyphens where your majestic em dash ought to be. That’s when you need the proofreaders’ symbol for the em dash:

En dashes just aren’t to be found on your keyboard, and they come in quite handy when you want to indicate a range of numbers: 1–10 for instance. Most of the time, though, people end up putting a hyphen here, because they don’t know where to find the en dash. When you spot that hyphen you can mark it up with with the en dash mark:

Here are the em dash and en dash proofreaders’ marks at work:

Sharp-eyed readers will notice that I’ve used the close-up mark above my em dashes and my en dash—that’s to indicate that there shouldn’t be any spaces between the dashes and the adjacent characters.

So how the heck do you get those dashes into your document to begin with?

Well, it’s pretty easy. You can either find the dashes in the catalogue of  symbols in your word processor or, if you’re lazy like me, use these keyboard shortcuts:

That red pencil still burning a hole in your pocket protector? You can find a full listing of all the Word Blog’s Proofreaders’ Marks entries here.