Research–the dash

I’ve been doing some research on the dash. I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit and I really do hate thinking about grammar. Yes, I am that kind of writer. Playing more by ear is my thought, but I do teach and so I understand correctness is just as important as rhetoric. But I feel the dash is needed in fiction but when mostly academic non-fictive people read fiction I believe they perhaps criticize the twisting of some rules. Like Dr. Ede hating my use of dashes.

Anyway, this would be not quite breaking a rule or not tweaking a rule to serve the rhetorical situation. And I do tell my composition students never to use a fragment or a run-on for rhetorical effect knowing that it is fine and most of the creative non-fiction we study in COmp 112 utilizes run-ons and fragments. And the only answer I can give them is that these are not normally used in academic writing or literary analysis but fine in creative work. But of course I also argue that creative work is academic.

Anyway, here is a post from my favorite grammar site–the Guide to Grammar and Writing–and a site I link from my course sites.

The dash is a handy device, informal and esentially playful, telling you that you’re about to take off on a different tack but still in some way connected with the present course — only you have to remember that the dash is there, and either put a second dash at the end of the notion to let the reader know that he’s back on course, or else end the sentence, as here, with a period.

__ Lewis Thomas

Use a dash [ ] (or two hyphens [ ] on old-fashioned typewriters) or dashes as a super-comma or set of super-commas to set off parenthetical elements, especially when those elements contain internal forms of punctuation:

All four of them—Bob, Jeffrey, Jason, and Brett—did well in college.

In most word-processors, the dash is created by holding down the option key and hitting the key that has the underline mark above the hyphen. This can vary, though, from program to program. Usually, you get an en dash (see below) with the option + hyphen key, and you get the larger em dash (used more frequently) with option + shift + hyphen keys.

Do not use dashes to set apart material when commas would do the work for you. Usually, there are no spaces between the dash and the letters on either side of a dash, although the dash is frequently shown that way in documents prepared for the World Wide Web and e-mail for typographical and aesthetic reasons (because the WWW authoring and e-mail clients have little control over line-breaks).

In writing dialogue, the dash is used to show breaks in thought and shifts in tone:

“How many times have I asked you not to —” Jasion suddenly stopped talking and looked out the window.

“Not to do what?” I prompted.

“Not to — Oh heck, I forget!”

A dash is sometimes used to set off concluding lists and explanations in a more informal and abrupt manner than the colon.

We seldom see the dash used this way in formal, academic prose.

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john paul jaramillo

John Paul Jaramillo’s debut story collection The House of Order was named a 2013 Int’l Latino Book Award Finalist, and his most recent work Little Mocos is now available from Twelve Winters Press. In 2013 Latino Boom: An Anthology of U.S. Latino Literature listed Jaramillo as one of its Top 10 New Latino Authors to Watch and Read. He is currently a professor of composition and literature at Lincoln Land College-Springfield, Illinois.

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