Tag Archives: Microsoft Word

En dashes – from where?

For years I wondered why so many writers and publishers were choosing to use en dashes (which are the width of a capital N) where em dashes (yes, the width of a capital M) used to be standard.

Em dashes have long been used to separate phrases and clauses—groups of words that contain a subject and a verb but aren’t written as an independent sentence. The dash in the previous sentence between the words clauses and groups is an em dash.

En dashes were normally used to separate a range of numbers (such as 50–100) or to join a compound word to another word or words (such as New York–Chicago).

In typing class, back in the (ulp) 1960s, we used two hyphens in place of em dashes–because typewriters didn’t have em dashes.

Microsoft Word has a feature called “Autoformat as you type,” and one of the choices under “Replace as you type” is “Hyphens (–) with dash (–).” (I don’t use it because I do a lot of HTML formatting in Word, and replacing double hyphens with dashes will ruin some of the code.) But if you use this feature (and I believe it’s turned on by default) and if you type two words with two hyphens between them, Word will replace the two hyphens with an em dash. What the “Replace as you type” menu doesn’t tell you, and what I didn’t learn until this month (September 2016) is that if you type a space, a hyphen, and another space, Word will turn the hyphen into an en dash, as illustrated in the title of this blog post.

My guess is that a lot of writers and publishers have not been choosing to use an en dash in place of an em dash. My guess is that a lot of writers don’t know one kind of dash from the other but have been typing space, hyphen, space where they wanted a dash, and Microsoft Word supplied one, and the publishers left it as written, or, to be precise, as typed by the author and as modified by Microsoft Word.

My solution when editing in Microsoft Word is to search for en dashes with space before and after them (in the Find menu, enter a space, then alt+0150, then another space) and change them to em dashes without space if that’s appropriate or to en dashes without space if that’s what they should be.

Listing acronyms from figures

When editing a document that has a lot of acronyms (initials or abbreviations pronounced as a word, such as Nasa or radar) or just plain initials (such as FBI, pronounced not as a word but by saying the letters F-B-I), I try to reduce their quantity by eliminating as many as I can. If IOTs* (initials of things) appears only once, I would delete it. When the reader comes across initials of things (IOTs), it might be useless trivia or it might be essential to memorize it in order to understand the rest of the document. The reader doesn’t know, but I can search for it with Microsoft Word’s find & replace tool and see whether it ever appears again in the document. If not, I delete it.

However, a lot of documents I edit have charts, graphs, or other figures that have been placed as pictures. Word can’t search the text in these pictures, so my practice for years has been to go through them and write down any abbreviations, initials, or acronyms that are not defined in the figure where they appear. All of them get listed in a note or glossary. When editing, I would continually refer to the written list to see what has to remain in the glossary even if it appears nowhere in the document’s text. This has involved a lot of back-and-forth referring to the written list.

Last month I thought of a better way to make that list of terms that appear in figures. It is so obvious that I am kicking myself for not thinking of it years ago: instead of writing down the abbreviations, initials, or acronyms in a separate list or file, I just add them to the document I’m editing. They can be the starting material for a glossary, simply a separate list, or added to an existing glossary, in which case I add a note to myself indicating which figure the term appears in so that I know not to delete it from the glossary.

Then when I come across initials of things (IOTs) in the text, I can search for IOTs. If it appears anywhere in the document, even just in a chart, Word should find it. If it turns up only in the glossary, with a note such as “(fig. 4),” I will know to keep IOTs in the glossary. If it turns up nowhere, I can safely delete it.

If I’m the last editor in the world to think of this, you can say, “Ha, ha! Steve has been using a handwritten list of terms that appear in figures!” If, like me, you’ve been wading through a mire of abbreviations, initials, and acronyms and struggling to cope, this may help you out of the quicksand.


*This is a silly string of initials I made up; it doesn’t belong in any serious document.

A simple signature block

Often I see documents that people must sign and date, and quite often the spaces to be filled in are composed of a hodgepodge of tabs and spaces (top left in the picture), with some spaces underlined. If the document is only going to be printed and signed by someone, then this method may do, even though it’s unpleasant to think about how it was made.

Sometimes, though, people must fill out the form on a computer (I’m not talking about fields in a Word document, which are something else again), then print it and sign it. Here I typed “MY NAME!” which pushed the underlined spaces off to the right, messing up the alignment.

A better method is to set up a simple Word table (the images on the right). This one has three columns and four rows. I used the Borders and Shading tool to apply borders to the bottoms of three of the table cells (the gray lines you see are just the cell boundaries; they don’t print). The labels are centered precisely, not approximately, and when I typed “MY NAME!” it simply appeared as content in one of the table cells without affecting the table layout. I could even paste a picture of my signature into the top left cell (though for this example I merely typed “My Signature” in the Edwardian Script font).

Widows and orphans

Widows and orphans—how sad is that? In typesetting, the words denote sad situations: a word or a line of type separated from the rest of a paragraph. Definitions vary, but because I used to work in a typesetting house before desktop publishing was invented (yes, we used stone tablets and chisels), I’ll give my definitions: a widow is the last line of a paragraph that sits alone at the top of a page or column; an orphan is the first line of a paragraph or (shudder) a heading that sits alone at the bottom of a page or column.

The orphaned headings in the picture above make me shudder. (They’re from the Fredericksburg, Va., Free Lance–Star, Sep. 20, 2015.)

Words Into Type is blunt about it: “Widows must be eliminated.” It
doesn’t address orphans, but if it did, I imagine it would be similarly stern.

Fortunately, widows and orphans are usually easy to eliminate. The word-processing and layout programs I’m familiar with prevent them automatically. Microsoft Word’s default paragraph formatting includes widow and orphan control: it will push an orphan to the next page or column, and it will push an extra line to the next page or column to prevent a widow. Also, its heading styles include a paragraph attribute called “keep with next.” It will push a heading to the next page or column to keep it with the first paragraph that follows. You can apply this attribute to other paragraphs that should stay with the next line—for example, a paragraph that introduces a numbered list.

You also can defeat the “keep with next” attribute by making the next paragraph blank. This is not desirable, but people do it when they use returns (that is, type blank lines) to create space between paragraphs. As far as Microsoft Word is concerned, a blank line with a paragraph return at the end is just another paragraph, and “keep with next” will keep a heading with that blank line but not with the paragraph after that, the one that has text.

To ensure that “keep with next” does its job, don’t type blank lines to create paragraph spacing. Use paragraph formatting to apply space above and below (Word’s heading and paragraph styles already include such spacing).

This advice of mine doesn’t exhaust the possibilities of things that can go wrong. I don’t know how the Free Lance–Star ended up with those orphaned headings. But using the standard tools that come with word-processing and layout programs can keep most orphans and widows out of your type.

Set Microsoft Word to English

Do you ever run a spellcheck in Microsoft Word and then discover that it skipped some obvious typos?

The problem may be the language setting. Often I get documents to edit that have been written by more than one author and have quotations pasted from websites. And sometimes not all of the content is set to U.S. English, or a setting in the Language menu is checked: “Do not check spelling or grammar.”

By default, that box is checked for Word’s built-in Page Number style. It doesn’t hurt to have the spellcheck skip the page numbers, but you probably don’t want it to skip anything else.

One of the first things I do when editing a document is to select the whole thing (control + A) and go to Word’s language menu. If “U.S. English” is gray or if the “Do not check spelling or grammar” box isn’t clear, I click on “U.S. English” or clear the “Do not check spelling or grammar,” check box, or both. If the check box has a gray check mark in it, you have to click twice. (The gray check mark indicates that some of the text will be skipped by the spellcheck.) The first click will make the check mark black, telling the spellchecker to skip all the text in the document, but the second click will empty the check box, telling the spellchecker to skip nothing. Now it will check even the page numbers, but that’s OK.

Two other Microsoft Word options can interfere with a spellcheck. They’re in the Spelling & Grammar options: “Ignore words in UPPERCASE” and “Ignore words with numbers.” I always keep these options turned off. A word in all capital letters isn’t automatically spelled correctly. I recently ran a spellcheck on a document that had numerous instances of the word SAFETY in all caps. The spellchecker found SAFTEY and SAFET. Words with mumbers aren’t automatically spelled right either. I’ve often found cases of the numeral one in place of a lowercase L. The numeral might have gotten there because of an error in optical character recognition—for example, when Acrobat scans text to make it readable. In some fonts the lowercase L looks a lot like the numeral one. I’ve even had the spellechecker stop at a word that looked fine to me, but it wasn’t fine: it had a numeral instead of a letter.

If you set your language option in Word to U.S. English (or whatever language you’re using) for the whole document and tell the spellchecker not to skip anything, the spellchecker will do a better job for you. Happy typo hunting!