John Dixon, independent medical writer and trainer in scientific writing skills, provides a useful tip for medical writers who work in MedComms.

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Recorded 28 May 2019. Produced by

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Hi, I’m John Dixon, a trainer in scientific writing, and here’s a bite that I hope may help you with your writing.

Inserting a true dash by replacing a hyphen with a dash [NEXT SLIDE]

Inserting a true dash on a PC can be confusing and frustrating – but it is easier on a Mac

There are three different ways to achieve this:

1 Replace the hyphen by a dash
2 Use operating system-specific keyboard shortcuts
3 Use your own AutoCorrect shortcuts

This bite deals with inserting a dash by simply replacing a hyphen with a dash using Microsoft Word, PowerPoint and Excel’s AutoCorrect function.
This method is quick for inserting parenthetical dashes
But… awkward to insert dashes for other purposes
And… this method doesn’t work if you want to insert a true minus sign

This method is simple… provided that the appropriate setting is selected in Microsoft Word, PowerPoint and Excel’s AutoCorrect options… and in fact this is usually already a default after installations on a PC or Mac. I’ll illustrate this at the end of the bite.

Many will be familiar with this method, because it usually happens automatically [NEXT SLIDE]

So let’s consider inserting a parenthetical en or em dash.
The en and em dash can be used to introduce new information in a sentence. This is its parenthetical function – and I deal with this in more detail in my bite on ‘Using the dash to introduce new information’.

Remember … the en dash is the shorter of the two … and for parenthetical use it’s spaced … whereas the em dash is longer and unspaced [NEXT SLIDE]

To insert a parenthetical en dash using the hyphen key on a PC or Mac…
Ensure ‘Hyphens (–) with dash (—)’ is selected in Options … I’ll cover this shortly
Type: [word] [space] [hyphen] [space] [word] [space] [NEXT SLIDE]

… pause… [NEXT SLIDE]


space [NEXT SLIDE]

hyphen [NEXT SLIDE]

space [NEXT SLIDE]


space … and the hyphen is converted to a spaced en dash … I’ll repeat it … [REPEAT] [NEXT SLIDE]

To insert a parenthetical em dash in using the hyphen key, type:
[word] [hyphen] [hyphen] [word] [space] [NEXT SLIDE]

… pause… [NEXT SLIDE]


hyphen [NEXT SLIDE]

hyphen [NEXT SLIDE]


space … and the hyphen is converted to an unspaced em dash … I’ll repeat it … [REPEAT] [NEXT SLIDE]

To insert en and em dashes using hyphens, ensure your settings in Microsoft Word (and PowerPoint and Excel) allow hyphens to be replaced with a dash
Here’s how on a PC … [NEXT SLIDE]

in Word … select File [NEXT SLIDE]

Options [NEXT SLIDE]

Proofing [NEXT SLIDE]

AutoCorrect options [NEXT SLIDE]

Select the AutoFormat As You Type tab [NEXT SLIDE]

Check the box ‘Hyphens (–) with dash (—)’ [NEXT SLIDE]

…pause… [NEXT SLIDE]

For Mac users wanting to insert dashes just using hyphens, the techniques described for a PC also apply to a Mac
Here’s how to check the settings on a Mac [NEXT SLIDE]

The sequence is: Word/ Word Preferences/ AutoCorrect/ AutoFormat As You Type tab/ and check the box ‘Hyphens (–) with dash (—)’ [NEXT SLIDE]

For an unspaced en dash used to mean ‘to’ for a range of numbers, or to join words together, this method doesn’t work as easily

Using this method, you need to delete the spaces before and after the en dash once it’s created
… this is awkward …
… there’s a better method whether on a Mac or a PC …
… and I cover this in my bite on ‘Using AutoCorrect to insert dashes’

Well, I hope that’s helpful. For more bites, visit

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[For the avoidance of doubt: this video is intended to be freely accessible to all. Please feel free to share and use however you like. Cheers Peter Llewellyn, Director NetworkPharma Ltd and Founder of the MedComms Networking Community activity at]