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Typography Series 1: How Punctuation Can Make You Sound Smarter

Typography Series 1: How Punctuation Can Make You Sound Smarter

Posted on Jan 25, 2019 by

Typography is more than the font you picked for the last blog you wrote. When done right, typography will set a tone for your brand. It can be light and fun or serious and formal. Simply stated, typography is defined as the style or appearance of your writing.

Up until the last 20 years or so, design and typesetting had to be done by professionals — people who meticulously hand set type for print. Now with easy access to digital publishing programs like Microsoft Word and Adobe InDesign — plus a little help from YouTube tutorials — even the average Joe can have a hand in design.

People have access to create beautiful designs, but they also have the ability to create unfortunate monstrosities that would make a Shakespearean play look like a 3rd grader’s creative writing assignment. One of the most important things that can ensure that your writing not only looks good but also sounds good is the correct use of punctuation.

Now when we talk about punctuation, we’re talking more than just the typical periods and exclamation points. Pretty much anyone can tell you that an exclamation point is used for accentuating, a question mark is used for questions, and a period is used for basically everything else (especially for passive aggressive emails). The real mystery is what all those other keys on the keyboard are really used for. If you’re not sure what those little horizontal lines mean, here’s a quick guide to help you go from 3rd-grade writer to (almost) Shakespeare: 


Dashes are one of those little things that people may not frequently notice, but they’re important for keeping your design/blog/paragraph/sentence looking professional.

Em dash (—)

(Mac: ALT + SHIFT + hyphen, PC: ALT + 0151, Word: CTRL + ALT + minus sign)

An em dash gets its name because it’s the width of the letter “m”— who would’a thought!? Its primary purposes are to replace a colon, comma or parentheses to create a break in thought. The dash can also be used to create a dramatic — pause.

Example: Most newspapers — and all that follow AP style — insert a space before and after the em dash.

En dash (–)

(Mac: OPT + hyphen, PC: CTRL + minus sign, Word: automatically converts hyphen to en dash with a space)

An en dash gets its name because — you guessed it — it’s the width of the letter “n.” It’s shorter than an em dash but slightly wider than a hyphen. En dashes are primarily used to show a range (50–60, May 5th–May 6th) or for sports scores. Many companies make the common mistake of using an en dash in place of an em dash. Come on, how could you get the two of those confused?!

Example: The Cowboys will go 14–2 this year.

Hyphen (-)

Tried-and-true and easy-to-use, the hyphen is the most commonly used type of dash. This is probably because of its ease-of-use. Although hyphens are the easiest and most commonly used dash, they really only have one purpose: to establish compound words and phrases. That’s it, no double or triple hyphens about it!

Quotation marks and apostrophes

Courtesy of Carson Park Design

Quotation marks are used for quotations, and apostrophes are used for conjunctions, and that’s all there is to it, right? Not quite. There’s a difference between foot-marks ( ‘ ) and apostrophes, as well as inch-marks ( ” ) and quotation marks. Most word processors and digital publishing apps will automatically correct, but we all know that autocorrect isn’t always the most reliable.

So how exactly do you tell the difference between the two? The key is in the curl. Foot-marks and inch-marks (also known as prime marks) are almost like straight versions of apostrophes and quotation marks. These are used to abbreviate the words “foot” and “inch” and to indicate measurements such as height. However, apostrophes and quotation marks have a little curl that looks pretty much like a mini “6” or “9.” Apostrophes are used to show possession or contractions while quotation marks are used to indicate – you guessed it – a quote.

Now that you’ve got the punctuation down, you have the power to step up your writing game (or just brag about your new-found grammatical knowledge to your coworkers.) As much information as that was, there’s STILL more to typography than just knowing the dashes and hyphens. Curious for more? Keep an eye out on our blog for the next typography post to make sure your writing is lined up for greatness!

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