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Tricks of the Trade: Punctuation

Besides being an editor who is tempted to read for pleasure with a red pen, I am bothered by books that haven’t been as professionally edited as they could be—whether they are self-published or published by a traditional press.

One of my pet peeves is the backwards apostrophe. For example, using a contraction with the first syllable left off, like “lift ‘em high.” When you type this apostrophe, it faces the wrong way. (This is using the most common type font, like Arial or Times New Roman. Other fonts have straight up and down apostrophes, but these two are the ones most agents and publishers prefer.)

You could find one that is curled the correct way and copy and paste. Or here is a quick and fairly easy shortcut. Highlight the apostrophe, hold down your Control key, hit the apostrophe key once, the comma key twice, and the apostrophe key once more. OK, that sounds complicated, but it’s really not. Cntl ‘,,’ and presto, the fix is done!

Here’s another tip for making an em-dash at end of quote. For example, “I didn’t mean—”

An em-dash is created by typing two hyphens with no spaces between the word and the punctuation. However, in MS Word, to make the double-hyphen automatically turn into a long dash and the quote marks to face the right way, it must be followed by another letter and the space bar. Or it would look like this: "I didn't mean--“

So, after you type the two hyphens to make the dash, type in a letter, then the quote mark, then go back and remove the letter. For example, “I didn’t mean—s” (go back and delete the letter “s.”)

Another hint, to find the correct symbols, such as Trademark or umlauts for German letters, etc., (in Word) go to Symbols on your toolbar. Again, you can copy and paste or you can use the shortcut keystrokes they recommend.

Are you all confused now? Does anyone else have other little tricks like these to share?

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A native Montanan, Heidi Thomas now lives in Northwest Washington. She has had her first novel published, Cowgirl Dreams, based on her grandmother. Heidi has a degree in journalism, a certificate in fiction writing, and is a member of Northwest Independent Editors Guild. She teaches writing and edits, blogs, and is working on the next books in her “Dare to Dream” series. The sequel, Follow the Dream will be released this year.


  1. I haven't used either of those in my writing yet, but at least I'll know how when it occurs.

  2. Those are some handy shortcuts Heidi.

    Another quick one for reversing an apostrophe is to press Control apostrophe twice (Ctrl ' Ctrl ') instead of typing the apostrophe. For reversing the quote after an em-dash try holding down the Control key and type Apostrophe Shift Quote (i.e., Ctrl ' Ctrl Shift ") instead of your quote mark.

    I love all these shortcut tricks. Sometimes I need to write them out and stick them near my monitor, though, so that I can remember them!

    Word 4 Writers on HearWriteNow
    Blood-Red Pencil

  3. Or I just type apostrophe twice, then backspace out the one going the wrong way.

    Great suggestion!


    Sylvia Dickey Smith

  4. Excellent post Heidi, I see these problems in almost every manuscript I receive. I have been at a loss as to how to explain it to my PC clients other than suggesting they select the correct characters from the "special characters" menu.

    I am so ensconced in the world of Mac, as is my whole extended family, that I'm always shocked that editors presume we're all PC. Such posts remind me of the actual statistics. But for all you Mac lovers out there, the keyboard shortcuts become as quick as typing the rest of your letters.

    em-dash: "shift + option + hyphen"
    forced apostrophe: "shift +option + ]" (that last symbol is a right bracket)

    Also, as you type in Word, you can have it autocorrect double hyphens to be em-dashes (I believe that is a default).

  5. In my epic fantasy, my characters speak French, I don't, I just wanted something different than English. Of course, it is in English, but every once in a while a little French sneaks in to enhance the story. Not knowing the language or what all those symbols above French words are called, and not having them on my key pad, I use Babel Fish to give the symbols to me and then cut and paste to my story and correct the font. Then I have to submit it to a translator just to be sure it is saying what I think it is saying.

    I think I should learn French.
    N. R. Williams, fantasy author

  6. Thank you for the em-dash hint. That one has been driving me crazy!

  7. I still use Ctrl-Alt-Num Lock-Hyphen to make an em dash instead of relying on auto correction and little fixes. It has become so automatic I don't have to think about it.

    The fix for quotation marks is a new one. Thanks for that hint.


  8. Thanks for all the great tips. I was doing the em-dash punctuation fix the way you suggested it, Heidi, but I like Elle's suggestion, too. I will have to put that on a sticky note by my computer until I can remember all the steps.

  9. Another way to get the desired symbol (on a pc) is to HOLD DOWN the alt key and punch in numeric key pad codes.

    Alt + 0146 = single end quote mark
    Alt + 0148 = double end quote mark
    Alt + 0151 = em dash
    Alt + 0153 = trade mark (™)

    Lists of these easy codes are available online.

  10. In the ANSI codes I just listed, do NOT punch the "+" because it won't work. I only included it to show that you had to add the numbers while holding down the Alt key.

  11. I like your article, and your timing's kind of fun. My editor asked me about the backwards apostrophes 'cause they looked odd to her when they were the right way around. My son doesn't like me changing them either. I guess once we get used to word-processors processing them wrong we choose to like what we know. I'd begun to think I was just being English insisting on changing them, so it's comforting to know they annoy other people too. Still, if the publisher has a chosen style, I'll just stay delightedly over the moon to be published!!!

    I like those shortcuts from Elle. I shall try to remember them. Just what I need to stay English.

  12. Thanks for the helpful hints!
    Morgan Mandel

  13. I don't have the quote issue when I'm working on the MS because I turn off curly quotes and use straight quotes. So far, nobody's cared.

    I figured out that type a letter then delete it for dashes by myself (and was very impressed)

  14. Great tips. Patricia, you must have flexible fingers!

  15. Great idea to post this info - as a former computer graphics artist/typesetter turned writer, I have taken these and other keyboard tricks for granted. I was so inspired by your sharing that I've posted a list of keyboard shortcuts for the Mac on my blog, citing yours and including the url to it, as well. :)

  16. Elle, your tricks are great too--maybe even easier! Thanks to all of you for sharing your hints.

  17. Amen! And Kathryn, thanks for the Mac shortcuts.


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