Devilish Details

Fiendish Tips for Writers and Editors

Microsoft Word 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019 or 365 (Windows)

As a copyeditor, one of the most common American Psychological Association (APA) style errors I come across is the hyphen being used instead of the en or em dash. En and em dashes have specific uses in APA Style, but my clients often tell me that they don’t know when they should be using these punctuation marks, or where they can find them in Word.

In this blog post, I introduce you to the two dashes and explain when you should implement them according to APA Style. I then demonstrate four simple ways to insert them into your Word manuscript.

En and em dashes in APA Style

APA Style specifies two types of dashes: the en dash (–) and the em dash (—). (See section 6.6 ‘Dash’ of the APA7 Publication manual.)

Most people are familiar with the hyphen (-), the punctuation mark used to join two or more words (such as in a prefix or compound word), and it is shorter in length than the en or em dash. The hyphen is often referred to as a dash, but technically, it’s not.

En and em dashes have specific uses in APA Style, and they are two APA Style elements that I edit the most when I’m copyediting a manuscript following APA Style.

En dash in APA Style (–)

In APA Style, the en dash has two uses:

  • It links items of equal weight in a compound adjective (e.g. Asia–Pacific; Melbourne–Sydney; teacher–student relationship).
  • It indicates a numerical range (e.g. pp. 12–76; aged 5–7 years; 20%–30%).

Fiendish fact

The en dash is so-called because in whichever typeface you’re using, it’s the same width as a lower case ‘n’.

Similarly, the em dash is the same width as an upper case ‘M’.

Em dash in APA Style (—)

In APA Style, the em dash is often used to signify a pause — an aside or afterthought — which has the effect of drawing our attention to the information in parentheses. It’s less formal than a semicolon. E.g.

‘Social adjustment—but not academic adjustment—was associated with extraversion’. (APA7, p. 157)

Note there is no space either side of an em dash in APA Style. The em dash should be used sparingly as it can weaken the flow of your writing.

Four ways to insert en and em dashes in Word

Following are four simple ways to implement en and em dashes in Word.

  1. Insert using Insert > Symbol
  2. Insert using a keyboard shortcut
  3. Insert using the numerical keypad
  4. Insert using autocorrect

#1. Insert using Insert > Symbol


  • In Word, put your cursor where you want the dash to appear.
  • From the Ribbon, select the Insert tab.
  • In the Symbols group, select Symbol > More Symbols.
  • Select the Special Characters tab.
  • Select either En Dash or Em Dash from the dropdown list. Your dash is inserted into your manuscript.
Fig 1 - Insert Symbol dialogue box

#2. Insert using a keyboard shortcut

While you were inserting the en or em dash using Insert > Symbol, you may have noticed a ‘shortcut key’ to the right of the symbol description (see figure above). You can use this shortcut to insert your en or em dash.

If a shortcut key has not yet been assigned to your en or en dash, you’ll need to assign one yourself. I use the shortcut keys Alt+N (for the en dash) and Alt+M (for the em dash). Here’s how to set this up:

  • Open Customise Keyboard Shortcuts (File > Options > Customise Ribbon).
  • Select All Commands from the Categories list.
  • Scroll down to the bottom of the list and select Common Symbols.
  • Select En Dash, then in the Press New Shortcut Key box, type the keyboard shortcut you want to use. Press the actual keys — that is, Alt+N or Alt+M if you want to use the same shortcuts I use.
  • Press Assign.

#3. Insert using the numerical keypad

If you have a numerical keypad, you can use the Alt function combined with a number:

  • En dash: Hold down the Alt key and press 0150
  • Em dash: Hold down the Alt key and press 0151

If this doesn’t work, make sure the numbers are not locked (press the Number Lock key on your keypad), and then try again.

#4. Insert using autocorrect

Word has built-in features to automatically correct a hyphen to an en or em dash.

To insert the en dash:

  • Type a word, then press the spacebar.
  • Type another word, then press the spacebar. The hyphen will automatically change to an en dash.

To insert the em dash:

  • Open your Proofing options (File > Options > Proofing) — you’ll see Autocorrect Options at the top. Click to open.
  • On the Autoformat tab, ensure the box ‘Hyphens (-) with dash (—)’ is ticked.


This blog post has explained when en and em dashes should be used according to APA Style and demonstrated four ways to insert them into your manuscript.

Addressing APA Style points is just one small part of my copyediting service — take a look at full details on my Editing Services webpage, and contact me if you’d like to discuss your writing project.

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