Writing coach and CUNY Journalism Press editor Timothy Harper tells us how to properly use ellipses, em dashes, and parentheses.
The default, typically, when we’re using punctuation is the comma. Sometimes we’ll want to use something else, like an em dash, or parentheses, for a different type of emphasis.
Sometimes in a long piece particularly, where you’re trying to create a more intimate understanding with the reader, you might use parentheses as an aside, as if you’re whispering in the person’s ear.
The em dash is something that really sets off that phrase in the middle and kind of just holds it up like a flashcard here at the side as we’re moving along. “The Boston Red Sox slugger David Ortiz — always a fan favourite at home — had his best year in 2016.” It’s not going to slow us down, it’s just going to give us a little blast of additional information quickly.
Ellipses are three dots that basically fill in, meaning something has been left out. I really encourage people not to use those because a reader looks at that and thinks, “What was left out?” Sometimes, though, we will do it to really shorten a long quote for example, a quotation, to just get right to the important part of it.
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