using em dashes - contentifai blog - A warm, inviting graphic symbolising connection and growth in content creation. This image features a stylized tree with branches stretching out.

How Using Em Dashes Sharpens Your Writing Style

Find out how using em dashes breathes life into your writing and makes for a compelling read in your business comms too.

Ahh the em dash—often simply called a dash (but not to be confused with the noble hyphen or the lesser known en dash)—is one of those punctuation marks that can make or break a passage, post, or even an entire thesis.

Simply put, by understanding and practising using em dashes, you too can make your writing style markedly more engaging and compelling. Of course, for content marketers, this is an indispensable asset and it can help to capture and maintain the reader’s attention—a notable challenge in the heady days of TL;DR and video shorts—ultimately boosting engagement and sales enquiries.

So sit down and strap in for our nifty guide on how to boost your prose prowess by using the humble em dash.

Table of Contents

Understanding Before Using Em Dashes

Historically, the em dash has been utilised for various purposes as it offers a range of punctuation versatility that is slightly more informal and emphatic than commas or parentheses. Technically, the em dash is longer than an en dash and a hyphen, which are often used for literary purposes (such as range and compound adjectives).

The em dash originated in the printing days, designed to be the width of a capital ‘M’, which explains its length. It’s used across various forms of writing, from fiction to nonfiction and digital content, proving its adaptability and importance in creating clear and engaging text. You may have encountered the em dash in academic writing where it helps to express complex concepts and elaborate arguments.

The Power of the Em Dash in Punctuation

Em dashes have several key functions that can enhance sentence structure:

They can add emphasis: Em dashes can highlight parts of the sentence that are crucial or surprising, providing a dramatic effect that draws the reader’s attention.

They can create a pause: They offer a way to insert a pause that reflects natural speech, thereby making your writing easier to read and more personable.

They can help clarify a list: When you’re listing complex items that include commas, using em dashes helps keep your list clear and easy to understand.

Perhaps the simplest function em dashes serve is to replace commas, parentheses, or colons—if you have previously used these punctuation types in your writing, for example—to offer up a cleaner, and more nuanced, look combined with a forceful pause. Try swapping out your double commas for em dashes in your next post and see what difference it makes.

In digital content—where you want to grab the reader’s attention and hold it long enough to convey something meaningful—using em dashes can prove particularly useful. Hey, you’ve read this far, haven’t you? 

For instance, instead of using a comma to add a subordinate clause, an em dash can make the interruption stand out. Personally, this is a favourite use of the em dash for me as I feel it helps to maintain reader focus by adding rhythm to my sentence structure.

Examples of Improved Sentences Using Em Dashes:

Without em dash: 

“Our project, which we had been working on for months, was finally launched.”

With em dash: 

“Our project—which we had been working on for months—was finally launched.”

Without em dash: 

“The committee chair, who was late to the meeting, apologised for the delay.”

With em dash: 

“The committee chair—who was late to the meeting—apologised for the delay.”

Without em dash: 

“She packed her bags for the trip, realising she might be gone for weeks.”

With em dash: 

“She packed her bags for the trip—she might be gone for weeks.”

This subtle change enhances the pause and raises the emphasis on the subordinate clause, making it more profound and the sentence more engaging.

The flexibility and emphasis offered when using em dashes make them a powerful tool in your punctuation ordnance, especially when the goal is to create engaging and readable content that drives website engagement and sales enquiries.

Mastering Using Em Dashes: My Top Tips to Improve Your Clarity and Style

Here are my top three tips for building regular em dash use into your writing. Try it for your professional writing as well as any literary scribing you may do too.

Best Practices for Using Em Dashes

When you build em dashes into your professional writing, think of them as a spice—useful in moderation but overwhelming if overdone. The key is knowing when their use can enhance clarity and style—not detract from it. 

Em dashes are great literary tools to add dramatic pauses, or define elements in a sentence that might otherwise be cluttered by commas or parentheses. But remember using em dashes too liberally can make your text choppy and hard to follow (much like any punctuation really).

Here’s A Common Mistake to Avoid—Depending which Side of The Pond You’re on

Using em dashes in place of commas or colons is fine, but remember not to insert spaces either side. This is a common practice in American English as well as when using the em dashes’ little siblings: the hyphen and the en dash, but typically we Brits avoid it. For digital content, try using em dashes without spaces on either side to help uphold a clean and streamlined appearance for easy reading.

A Note on Using Em Dashes for SEO

While em dashes themselves don’t directly affect SEO, the readability and engagement they offer up can contribute to better SEO in a holistic manner. How, you might ask? By improving user engagement metrics such as time on page and bounce rates, well-punctuated content can positively influence your site’s SEO ranking.

Using Em Dashes in Digital Content: A Perfect Match?

Em dashes can be a particularly powerful bit of punctuation when it comes to digital content. Their striking ability to break up text and introduce additional information without steering readers away from the main point makes them a great choice to improve online readability and user engagement. In the heady days of social media and video shorts, em dashes can be a welcome breath of fresh air that helps you highlight a key point, create a dramatic pause, or add nuance to your writing as you catch the eye of a scrolling user.

Plus, skimmable and digestible content is well-known to maintain reader attention for longer. Using em dashes helps to introduce summarised points, for example, or lead into expanded thoughts and make complex ideas and concepts more digestible. For instance, popular blogs and news websites often use em dashes to add side notes or clarify points without disrupting the flow of reading—thus aiding the online reader who is scanning the content for relevant and interesting information.

Why Using Em Dashes Matter in Content Marketing

The versatility of em dashes means you can enhance the flow of your narrative, add emphasis, and clarify complex ideas—all key tools when drafting engaging, compelling content that draws in a stronger readership.

As a thought experiment, reflect on how using em dashes in your writing can strategically improve your content’s readability and engagement potential. Why not try swapping your next set of commas for humble em dashes and gauging their impact?

Elevate Your Writing with Contentifai

Are you ready to take your content to the next level? Contact us at Contentifai today to discover how our expertise in strategic copywriting and content marketing can enhance your overall marketing strategy. And remember, using em dashes can be an effective literary device in your writing toolkit—use them wisely to make your text more engaging and accessible!




Contentifai Brush Stroke