Part of the Creative Briefs series of mini-episodes with quick design- and marketing-related tips, this episode talks about commonly misused typographic marks and how to correct them. Using them properly will give you more cred. Plus, get a free checklist.
Improperly used typographic marks are a huge pet peeve of mine. They are everywhere! Graphic designers get them wrong, clients get them wrong, and it’s our job to correct them. So you don’t look like an amateur, let’s go over some common mistakes, because these are not just cosmetic issues. These symbols all have different meanings and uses.
A holdover from the days of the typewriter, double spaces are not needed on the computer. Sometimes a search for double spaces and changing them to a single one will catch them all. But what I see a lot is that the client has sneakily typed in a non-breaking space that must also be removed or replaced with a regular single space, and the process started all over again to remove those instances of double spaces.
I might search for those non-breaking spaces first—in InDesign by typing in a caret (which is above the 6 on the keyboard) and a capital S (^S), and putting a regular space in the Change field, then search for double regular spaces, replacing those with a single space.
And then all is right again—until we encounter the wrong kinds of dashes…
A hyphen (next to the zero on your keyboard) is used:
- for hyphenating words, including compound words such as “well-being”;
- in phone numbers.
An en dash, which can be keyed on the Mac with option+hyphen and on the PC with alt+0150, is a bit longer than a hyphen and is used for:
- numerical ranges such as “10–20,”
- time ranges such as “10 AM–2 PM” and
- day or date ranges such as “Monday–Friday” or “May 1–May 31.”
Although the en dash is the most confusing of the three types of dashes, it’s easy to remember because you use it in place of the word “to.” Typically, there is no space on either side of the dash, but the client’s editorial style may dictate otherwise.
The en dash can also be used to hyphenate compound adjectival phrases such as “She is an AIGA Fellow Award–winning novelist.” But that’s not usually something you need to worry about. You’re not editing, after all.
By the way, the reason I know what the heck a “compound adjectival phrase” is, it’s because I loved diagramming sentences in grade school and then in linguistics class in college.
The em dash is the longest of the three. It is keyed on the Mac with shift+option+hyphen and on the PC with alt+0151. It is used to indicate a pause within a sentence. Sometimes, clients will have typed in two hyphens in a row. That’s usually indicative of them wanting an em dash but not knowing how to make one. The em dash may be used with or without a space on both sides, dictated by the client’s style guide.
An ellipsis is used to omit a word or phrase from a quote. Typing three periods in succession does not an ellipsis make (although it may do it automatically in Word). Otherwise, they should be rekeyed correctly as option+semicolon on the Mac and alt+0133 on the PC. If you don’t use the proper symbol, then you could have a period or two that flow to the next line, instead of them appearing together as one unit.
I often see straight quote marks used instead of curly quotes, also called “smart quotes.” Curly quotes are called “smart quotes” but straight quotes are not “dumb” quotes because straight quotes are for foot and inch marks and should only be used for measurements. Curly quotes are for apostrophes, denoting dialog and article titles.
In InDesign, for whatever reason, the preference for smart quotes is not checked by default. I beg you to go to your Preferences panel then Type preferences and check the box next to “Use Typographer’s Quotes” to avoid future quotation catastrophes.
Now, if you do need to type foot and inch marks—typically much less common than the need to type proper quotation marks!—on the Mac, type control+shift+quotation mark for inches and control+quotation mark for foot marks. On a PC, use alt+quotation mark for foot marks and alt+shift+quotation mark for inch marks. The quotation marks are found next to the Enter/Return key.
Something to note: you can’t copy and paste straight quotes over curly quotes; you need to rekey them or use the popup menu in Find/Change dialog box to search for those specific ones to convert them.
These best practices for typographical marks also apply to the web, so if you add any copy to websites, use them.
A word of caution: I’ve always made these changes to client work, asking if they have a style guide so I can keep an eye out for spaces before or after the dashes and make them consistent. However, once, I asked prior to doing so on a technical publication, letting them know what I usually change, and they asked me just to not make any of those changes to the references because they wanted those to have the same (although incorrect) typography as the original author had used. But I’ve worked on lots of other publications, where we changed them regardless.