Sunday, January 31, 2010

Ubiquitous hyphens and dashes

In my work, I come across a particular subset of Powerpoint authors: otherwise smart people who start adding hyphens and dashes all over the place. Their slides become odd-looking typographic mazes with weird spacing and way-to-many little horizontal gashes. It’s as if they’ve forgotten about other perfectly good punctuation like commas, colons, and parenthesis.

I’m sure this is not intentional - it may just seem like the right character to use - especially when you’re composing your 10th bullet point - and you’re on a roll - and the content just keeps coming - and you don’t want to stop or you’ll loose your train of thought - so a hyphen is quick and easy.


It doesn’t really serve you or your content well. Dashes visually break the flow of a phrase, and that is often counter to the intention of the writer or presenter. Editing can help. Here are some alternatives to dash overload:
  • Use a colon instead. If you have a headline that states a fact followed by some consequence or effect, use a colon (e.g., Energy Inefficiency: Over 57% Energy Wasted in U.S.)
  • Use a period. Separate the item from its description in a bullet list with a period, such as this list. Using boldface for just the item also helps with legibility.
  • Parenthesis. If an phrase is parenthetical (i.e., supplementary to your main idea), put that phrase in parenthesis. In a headline, consider removing the phrase altogether, such as moving it to the body of the slide.
Of course the nature of slide shows means things are different than formal writing, but that doesn’t mean that an anything-goes approach really helps you communicate better.

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