Use a dash in the next thing you write. If you haven't been using a dash in your business writing before, you '11 find it to be remarkably handy for emphasizing your important ideas.

Rules for the dash

1. Use a dash as you would a colon: as an "arrow" that comes at the end of a complete sentence, pointing to some more useful information about what you just said. Notice that the dash gives a slightly more informal feel to the sentence than a colon does:

• He started the business for one reason—money.

• He started the business for three reasons—adventure, fame, and money.

• He had always been a thrill-seeker—he once climbed the northwest face of Half Dome.

Normally you shouldn't use the dash to point to a series of sentences or paragraphs.

2. Use a pair of dashes (one on each side) to set off useful information in the middle of a sentence:

• He robbed the bank—the one just around the corner—for the sheer adventure.

The sentence is, "He robbed the bank for the sheer adventure." The phrase "the one just around the corner" is in the middle of the sentence.

Question: What three marks could you put around that phrase?

Answer: a set of commas, a set of dashes, or a set of parentheses.

The difference? Dashes add emphasis to the phrase, commas give standard emphasis, and parentheses treat it like a whispered aside.

3. Use a dash (even where you might have no other punctuation) to emphasize the last idea in a sentence:

• He robbed the bank—for adventure, notoriety, and greed.

• He robbed the bank for adventure, notoriety—and greed.

Again, you can see the effect the dash has on emphasis.

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