I hardly consider myself an expert on the art of writing. I do my research, and I hope I keep improving, but I think there are simply too many methods, opinions and philosophies out there for anyone to ever truly become a bona fide, incontrovertible expert.
That being said, if there’s one thing I do pride myself on knowing, it’s grammar, spelling and punctuation. I sacrificed my (semi) perfect eyesight in the pursuit of a nearly-error-free newspaper in college, and I still make a bit of extra income doing some freelance copyediting.
So, when my friends have a question about grammar, spelling or punctuation, they often come to me, and I am happy to help. One such friend has requested I do a pre-NaNoWriMo post on Em Dashes. I think she was witness to a bit of bantering that took place on twitter with fellow writer, one who happens to have a rather passionate love affair with the em dash. I, on the other hand, have often expressed my hatred of that dastardly punctuation mark, due to major overuse in publications I copyedit.
That being said, there is a time and a place for an em dash. When used properly, I actually can’t help but be charmed. Because my degree is in journalism, I generally follow the Associated Press guidelines:
ABRUPT CHANGE: Use dashes to denote an abrupt change in thought in a sentence or an emphatic pause: We will fly to Paris in June — if I get a raise. Smith offered a plan — it was unprecedented — to raise revenues.SERIES WITHIN A PHRASE: When a phrase that otherwise would be set off by commas contains a series of words that must be separated by commas, use dashes to set off the full phrase: He listed the qualities — intelligence, humor, conservatism, independence — that he liked in an executive.ATTRIBUTION: Use a dash before an author’s or composer’s name at the end of a quotation: “Who steals my purse steals trash.” — Shakespeare.WITH SPACES: Put a space on both sides of a dash in all uses except the start of a paragraph and sports agate summaries.
“I just can’t help myself,” Kristin said. “Em dashes are so —”“Don’t say it,” Elizabeth interjected. “I simply can’t bear it.”
WRONG: “We’ll learn proper punctuation… some day.”RIGHT: “We’ll learn proper punctuation — starting now!”
Nonessential Clause: “National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, is a time for both feats and follies.”Interjection: “National Novel Writing Month — or, as I like to call it, Writers Are Crazy Month — takes place every year in November.”