Hi there. A few months back we covered some basic typographic rules that would help make any communication look better—be it an email, Keynote slide, website, or whatever else. We’re going to expand on that a little further and look at the different types of dashes, correct apostrophe and quotation mark usage, and paragraph indentation.

  1. Em Dashes vs En Dashes vs Hyphens

    Using a hyphen in situations that call for an em or an en dash is one of the most common typographic errors that people make. All three look similar, but they each have very specific uses.

    An Em dash ( — ) is the longest of the three dashes. You use it to signify a break in thought when a period is too much but a comma isn’t enough (We spent the day at the park—the weather was lovely). The key command for an em dash is shift + option + - (or shift + alt + - on a pc).

    An en dash ( – ) is used primarily for ranges (2010–2015). They can also be used to show a connection between two words (Chinese–American negotiations). It’s not as long as an em dash, but it’s longer than a hyphen. The key command is option + - (alt + - on a pc).

    Hyphens combine two separate words to form a single word (A well-liked professor). Hyphens also break up words at the end of a line.

  2. Curly Quotes vs Straight Quotes vs Prime Marks

    Always use curly quotes and curly apostrophes ( “ ‘ ) as opposed to their straight brethren ( ' " ). Straight quotes are a carryover from typewriting days when saving space on a keyboard was a concern.

    If you are writing out measurements use prime marks and not curly quotations for feet and inches (The bedroom was 13´ 8˝ x 9´ 10˝). The key command for the single prime mark is shift + option + e. The command for double prime mark is shift + option + g.

  3. Proper Indentation

    In school you’re taught to always indent the first line in a paragraph. This isn’t always the case. You only need a first-line indent when there isn’t an additional space between paragraphs. If you put a space between the two paragraphs, there should not be an indentation.