Dash it all!

Do you know your em dash from your en dash?  Isn’t it just a hyphen or a dash? Did you know one of the most common punctuation mistakes made in medical presentations is the use of the dash? 

In the world of pharmaceuticals and healthcare medical writing (and other technical and published writing) these punctuations are important. So we’ve put together a ‘Dash It All’ infographic to clarify things and keep close-at-hand.

Hyphen:  The hyphen is probably the one dash we all recognise and have a reasonably good understanding of.  The hyphen is most commonly used when joining words together and when needing to separate numbers like phone numbers.

For those unfamiliar with the em and en dash, they are also horizontal lines but of varying length and are used for different reasons.

So, when do you use them and why?  

Em dash:  The em dash—named because it’s been the width of the letter “m” since the days of typesetting—is significantly longer than a hyphen and is used to break up sentence structure. Em dashes are useful in sentences that are long and complex.  Let’s look at an example:

  • Recent changes in regulations mean there is an increased need for clinical trial data to be generated for children under age 18.  Additional supporting documents—training and educational materials for sales teams and patient information websites—will require medical writers to have good communications skills and understanding of clinical trials.

To type an em dash on a Mac, use Shift+Option+Minus (-); for Windows hold Alt and type 0151.

En dash:  The en dash, similarly named because its width is that of letter “n’, is slightly longer than a hyphen but not as long as the em dash.  The en dash typically means “through” and is mostly used to indicate inclusive numbers. Here are some examples:

  • Sept 2–Oct 4
  • Pages 30–34

To type an en dash on your Mac, type Option+Minus (-). To type an en dash on Windows,  hold Alt and type 0150.

Why are the em dash and en dash important in medical writing?  Use of correct language, grammar, and punctuation go a long way in making presentations understandable to your audience.  Punctuation should be presentable and acceptable to your audience to ensure a clear understanding of presentation topics.


Try our quick online Dash quiz if you want to compare your skills against others. 

Or just read on to try to determine which dash would be appropriate in the following sentences.

  • The medical conference will be held at the Hilton in London from May 3–May  5. 
  • The incidence of side effects in the study population ranged between 2–5%.
  • The trial participants who experienced side effects—all of whom reported headache—felt symptoms were relieved after a few days.

(Find the answers at the end of this article.)

Choose Concise — experienced event partners to help you manage the details. 

Under our increasingly complex regulatory environment, managing communications materials in pharmaceuticals and healthcare continues to be a challenge as companies collaborate with various stakeholders.  It’s important to choose suppliers that you trust, knowing that the approval process can often be tricky.

Fortunately, when you need an event app the Concise team is experienced in working with clients who must navigate strict pharmaceutical regulatory and compliance guidelines.  Because the team at Concise works with many pharmaceutical and healthcare companies, we understand the challenges you face in regards to content approval, working with key opinion leaders, managing timelines and planning medical conferences. 

Our Project Managers are experienced with Veeva Systems’ content approval process and build timelines to accommodate pre-approval of app content for regulatory compliance. We’re also geared up to offer flexible service allowing for last minute changes to agendas and presentations onsite.  

We understand your challenges.  In fact, we’ve even configured the Chime event app to include em dashes and en dashes, so your Polling questions, Feedback forms are punctually accurate, too.  

We’re here to help you navigate the small, but important details for your next healthcare event.  

Contact our team to learn more!


(Quiz answers: 1. En dash, 2. En dash, 3. Em dash)