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Favorite way to make an em-dash?

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Last Modified: 2017-08-17
Quick, for those of you that care about copywriting, typography, and such: what's your favorite way to make an em-dash (—)? My current method is to do a Google search and copy/paste, but this seems terrible and I feel bad every time I do it because I know there are more efficient ways. I've been too lazy busy to train myself to do something better, but maybe learning your favorite way(s) will finally prompt me to take a more efficient approach...

Note: most of my writing is done in a web browser and I tend to bounce between Chrome on a PC and Safari on a Mac.
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Joe WinogradDeveloper
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Commented:
Hi Brian,
As you probably know, I'm a big fan of AutoHotkey. I have lots of hotkeys defined in it — including em-dash and en-dash. I use them so frequently that I defined em-dash as Alt-minus-sign and en-dash as Ctrl-minus-sign. Here are the AutoHotkey code snippets for them (the numbers in parentheses are the extended ASCII code values in decimal and hex):

^-:: ;en dash (150/x96)
Send –
Return

!-:: ;em dash (151/x97)
Send —
Return

I also use the bullet a lot, which I made Alt-Ctrl-minus-sign:

!^-:: ;bullet (149/x95)
Send •
Return

Of course, you don't have to use AutoHotkey — any scripting language that you prefer that is able to send keys will work fine. Regards, Joe

Oops...after I wrote this and was about to hit Submit, I noticed the last word in your post — Mac. AutoHotkey doesn't run on Mac, and I know zero about Mac, but I'm guessing there's a scripting program that can send keys. Find such a program and configure a single keystroke (I like Alt-minus, but pick whatever you prefer) to send em-dash.
JohnBusiness Consultant (Owner)
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Commented:
If you have Lucida Console em-dash is Alt-0151 and you can use that.
Developer
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Commented:
Hi John,
To be clear, it doesn't have to be Lucida Console. As mentioned in my previous post, em-dash is in the extended ASCII codes (decimal 151, hex 97). For example, here it is in a half-dozen different fonts (none of them Lucida Console), entered in Word via Alt-0151 on the numeric pad with NumLock on:

em-dash various fonts
Regards, Joe
Lucas BishopMarketing Technologist
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Commented:
I'm on OSX so it's just "Shift + Option + Minus", if I'm in some interface that doesn't auto-update a "double-dash + space".
Joe WinogradDeveloper
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Commented:
Hi Lucas,
My Word 2016 replaces a double-dash with an en-dash (150/x'96'), not an em-dash (151/x'97'). What does your Word do on OSX? And does your Shift-Option-Minus create an en-dash or em-dash? Thanks, Joe
Erin WestContent Marketer & Copywriter
Commented:
I use Google Docs and there's a shortcut for inserting em dashes into copy to avoid having two small dashes side by side.

Go to Tools>Preferences and add "Replace -- with —". This preference will be saved for all your future documents.

Small hitch? If you don't enter a space after the two dashes, the em dash doesn't show up. So after you add two dashes, press space, and you'll see the em dash appear. Then, after you finish writing, you'll need to go back and delete those extra spaces.
Lucas BishopMarketing Technologist
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Commented:
@Joe in OSX, the en-dash shortcut is even less keystrokes: Shft-Minus

It appears that Word does the auto-replace in OSX for the double-dash space, but in reviewing this a bit, it turns out the replacement is due to a setting in OSX.

System Preferences > Keyboard > Text
"Use smart quotes and dashes" is enabled by default:

language text settings in osx
Per Apple:
Automatically convert straight quotation marks to typographical (“curly”) ones, and double hyphens to em dashes (—).

This whole time I thought the replacements were being done by the individual applications.
Joe WinogradDeveloper
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Commented:
Hi Lucas,
That is excellent detective work!

On Windows, it is done by Word, controlled by Options>Proofing>AutoCorrect Options>AutoFormat:

Word 2016 W7 replace double-dash with en-dash
But, as I mentioned earlier, that gives en-dash. For those folks who don't want to implement send-keys software (as I do with AutoHotkey), you could implement em-dash via Options>Proofing>AutoCorrect Options>AutoCorrect. For example, here I made a triple-dash an em-dash:

Word 2016 replace triple-dash with em-dash
Regards, Joe
Brian MatisProduct Manager

Author

Commented:
@Joe: Huh... When I try that double-hyphen trick in Word (I'm on 2013 though) it gives me what sure looks like an em-dash. But the way I trigger it is to type the double-hyphen, then the next word, then space, and then Word converts the double-hyphen into the em-dash. Not sure if you do something different, and I've gotta wonder if Word has all sorts of crazy logic going on to try to figure out precisely what type of dash to create... Or if your manually provided "---" conversion affects the automatic double-hyphen conversion in some way... In any case, I hardly ever use Word anymore, but it's been very handy to get the reminder that Word already handles this sort of thing! (That's probably why whenever I've been drafting something in Google Docs, I've just done the double-hyphen to try to remind myself to convert to an em-dash later.)

@Erin: Nice! Glad Google docs has that, I've set mine up to do that now. :-)

@Lucas: I really do love how Apple provides this at the system level! And that they've got a system-wide way to create shortcuts like the 'omw' example you've got.

@Joe: I've definitely wanted to check out AutoHotKey. Someone in QA here was recently recommending it as well. Seems like that'll be a good way to get something like what Apple provides, but on Windows. When I've briefly looked into it, it seemed kind of obnoxious to set up for something like this, but I think I should probably just take the plunge.

@Experienced Member: Thanks for the alt-code on that! That's one solution I've considered and the nice thing is that it doesn't require any special set-up and works everywhere (at least on Windows... can't recall if it does on Mac, but I think it might?) I've hated the idea of trying to memorize that—it's totally crossed my mind though! But I suppose it's either that or do the AutoHotKey setup if I want something universal and that'll work here on EE :-)
Joe WinogradDeveloper
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Commented:
Hi Brian,

> it gives me what sure looks like an em-dash

It is not! It is an en-dash.

> But the way I trigger it is to type the double-hyphen, then the next word, then space, and then Word converts the double-hyphen into the em-dash.

Yes, that's the way it works, but it converts the double-hyphen into an en-dash, not an em-dash. That's controlled by Options>Proofing>AutoCorrect Options>AutoFormat, shown in my first screenshot above (the option that I enclosed in a red rectangle).

> Or if your manually provided "---" conversion affects the automatic double-hyphen conversion in some way

I manually provided the triple-hyphen, because the double-hyphen converts to an en-dash, so I made the triple-hyphen convert to an em-dash via Options>Proofing>AutoCorrect Options>AutoCorrect, shown in my second screenshot above (the option that I also enclosed in a red rectangle). I did that only for the purposes of this question. I don't really need either in Word, because my AutoHotkey start-up script defines Ctrl-Minus as en-dash and Alt-Minus as em-dash, which can then be used in all programs, not just Word — as I just did in this sentence while using a text editor, not Word. It would also work fine directly in this comment box — or anywhere in Windows (but, as I think you know, I don't write content online — for safety sake, I write all content offline in my fav text editor and then copy/paste into the comment box).

> I think I should probably just take the plunge.

Yes, take the plunge! It's an amazing tool. It goes way beyond just hotkeys and hotstrings — it's a very robust programming language with a ton of built-in features for developing programs in Windows. Take 15 minutes to read the quick description of each of its commands and functions and you'll see what I mean. Regards, Joe
Brian MatisProduct Manager

Author

Commented:
Thanks again for all the help and ideas on this everyone! I'm happy to say that in the last few weeks, I've finally stopped using the old "google search and copy/paste" method. Now, when I'm on a Mac or in Google Docs, I use the double-hyphen method and for anything else on Windows—even though it's a weird thing to memorize—the Alt-0151 has finally become ingrained.

One of these days though, I plan to finally set up AutoHotKey so I can use a double-hyphen universally throughout Windows.
JohnBusiness Consultant (Owner)
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Commented:
Thanks for the update and I was happy to help.
Joe WinogradDeveloper
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Commented:
You're welcome, Brian. And thanks to you for the closing comment. Regards, Joe

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