Eclectic Blog

When Can I Use a Dash?

In writing, we often provide additional information that is not needed in the sentence for its meaning to be clear to the reader. That additional information is call a non-essential clause.

In this example, if you remove the non-essential clause in italics, your reader knows which person is easy to work with.

Dave, who was hired as creative director, is easy to work with.

When setting off non-essential information in the middle of a sentence, you can use commas, parentheses or dashes. Which punctuation you use is a style choice.

Em dashes tend to emphasize.

Acme Plastics — once a leader in its field — has fallen on hard economic times.

Parentheses tend to de-emphasize.

Acme Plastics (once a leader in its field) has fallen on hard economic times.

Commas tend to be neutral.

Acme Plastics, once a leader in its field, has fallen on hard economic times.

You can use dashes in other ways too:

  • to replace a colon in informal writing

Example: Ms. Prairie has all the qualities of a great teacher — a sense of humour, a knowledge of her subject and a love of her students.

  • to emphasize a word or phrase

Example: The new website is difficult to navigate — especially the search function.

What’s the Difference Between En and Em Dashes?

En and em dashes are not interchangeable.

  • Use an en dash to separate numbers and dates.
    Example: Her dates of service were 2011–2015.
  • Use an en dash to combine open compounds.
    Example: His sales territory extends across the Ontario–Quebec border.

What Makes a Writing Workshop Effective?

Often at the end of a workshop, you’ll be asked to complete an evaluation sheet. These sheets tend to only focus on whether you found the training favorable or engaging. However, if you’re attending a workshop with the intention of learning something, shouldn’t you be focusing on what you’ve learned, as opposed to how much you liked it?

How Can We Measure Learning?

When looking at this level of evaluation, we are asking if you’ve actually learned what you were supposed to in the training. For example, if one of the learning objectives states that you will be able to create clear and concise emails with effective subject lines, salutations and closings, then learning means you can create clear and concise emails on your own by the end of training.

One way to ensure you’ve learned what you are supposed to is by using learning activities throughout the training. The best training is not simply talking at people and sending them back to work. Every time you learn something new, you need time in the session to practice it. With bigger or more complicated skills, these should be broken down into smaller tasks, so your learning can be evaluated throughout the training day.

Going back to our email example, after training, learners might be asked to submit an email to the instructor for feedback. This way, you can know if you’ve formatted it well and included all the relevant content. You should get feedback on what you’ve done well and what can be improved for next time.

If you aren’t given the time to practice new skills or demonstrate your knowledge while in the training environment, you will never know if you’ve learned anything at all. Also, activities to help measure your learning will also help you retain what you have learned when you go back to work.

Before you register for your next workshop, ask the provider these questions:

  • What activities will we be doing to practise the skills that I am learning?
  • How will I demonstrate what I’ve learned during the workshop?
  • How will I receive feedback on my progress?

Do You Need to Write That Policy or Procedure?

Most organizations have various policies and procedures in place to address possible concerns and to provide direction to employees. Sometimes you will need to update these documents or create new ones. The first step you should take before creating new policy and procedure documents is to decide if you even need them.

Here are four key points to consider when deciding if you need new policies and procedures:

  • They need to apply to the many, not the few, in your organization.
  • They must be followed consistently, which gives management less flexibility to treat each situation as unique.
  • They must be well thought out, because a procedure or policy intended to protect your organization can actually cause damage if it is poorly planned or executed.
  • They can be hard to change after they’ve been implemented, even if they are bad policies or procedures.

See below for examples of when to create policies and procedures and when not to.

When to create policies and procedures:

  • Legislation requires an organization to have a specific policy or procedure in place on a specific issue, such as parental leave.
  • The regulations and steps to be followed are rigidly defined and a policy or procedure will help to ensure compliance.
  • Employees are confused about certain areas of the business, such as using a company cell phone for non-work purposes, and a policy or procedure would eliminate the confusion.

When Not to Create Policies and Procedures

  • Organization culture and norms are already working well for the topic you want to cover. For example, if all employees already dress in an acceptable way, you don’t need a dress code policy.
  • The policy or procedure will be difficult to enforce.
  • The directives are intrusive or illegal. For example, asking employees for their personal social media passwords.

How Much Does It Cost You to Write a Business Document?

In today’s business world, workers often spend much of their time writing business documents such as emails, newsletters and reports. It’s important to get these documents right, because poor documents waste time and money, and they can hurt your organization’s credibility.

Do you know how much each document costs your organization to write?

We have a helpful calculator on the Eclectic website to help you estimate this cost. You begin by entering the average length of your business document (in pages) and then add your average annual salary (in thousands). Then click calculate, and you will see an estimate of how much it costs your organization to write one document.

Seeing the average estimated cost of each document you write helps solidify the need for effective writing skills in the workplace.

Confused by Semicolons? Read On

Semicolons might be the most maligned punctuation mark after apostrophes. If you struggle with when and how to use them, it’s helpful to know you are never required to use semicolons. You can keep using periods and move on with your life.

However, semicolons are easier to use when you know they only have three functions with no exceptions. Let’s look at when to use semicolons.

Join Two Complete Sentences Together

Sometimes you might have two short, related sentences that you would like to link together. You could use a conjunction (such as and, but, or so) with a comma. Or you could use a semicolon instead. Here’s an example:

We discussed the grant proposal; we decided not to give the group its funding.

Note that you can’t just insert a comma here, because that would be a comma splice. You could choose to use a period and keep them as two sentences though.

Join Two Complete Sentences Together with a Transition Word

Sometimes you might have two short, related sentences that you would like to link with a larger transition word or phrase (such as first, on the other hand, however, therefore or although). In these cases, you need to use both a semicolon and a comma. Here’s an example:

We discussed the grant proposal; however, we decided not to give the group its funding.

Note the semicolon before the transition word however and the comma after it. You can’t use a comma with a transition word the way you do with a conjunction, because this also creates a comma splice. Again, if you don’t like the look of this sentence, you can keep it as two separate sentences with a period in between.

Use to Separate Items in a Series

The final use of a semicolon is to separate items in a series if there are already commas within the series. This makes the sentence easier to read than if you put commas between items. Here is an example:

There were three people nominated for the position: Jane Smith, accounts manager; Jennifer Thomas, marketing manager; and Bob Jones, supervisor.

Note how the semicolons make this series easier to read. You could also move the series into a bulleted list to avoid the need for the semicolons.

When Not to Use Semicolons

You should not use semicolons for any other purpose. They are not interchangeable with colons. You should use a colon before starting a list, not a semicolon.

 You also shouldn’t use semicolons after the salutation in a letter, such as Dear Jane. You should use either a colon or a comma after a salutation.

Finally, you should avoid using semicolons at the end of bullet points. If each bullet is not a full sentence, you should not use any punctuation.


Subscribe to Eclectic Blog