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How to avoid dashes in formal writing

By 5 September 2018Language Tips

Avoid dashes in formal writing

Did you know that dashes are informal punctuation?

When writing a formal letter or another kind of document, you should always try to avoid informal punctuation symbols. Dashes are one example; exclamation marks are another.

You can avoid informal punctuation by replacing with a more formal punctuation alternative. Dashes can be replaced by several other punctuations including commas, colons and brackets.

How to replace dashes in your writing?

If we start with the example in the image, we can think about alternatives. A comma or even a colon could replace the dash that separates ‘mother’ and ‘Sofia’.

  • Max was accompanied by his mother, Sofia.

A colon is also a better option than dashes when writing a list of items. It’s also possible to reorder the planned sentence.

Or you can do both, for example:

  • Mr Erikson’s current medication – warfarin and Pulmicort – need review at his next consultation.
  • At his next consultation, Mr Erikson needs a review of his current medication: warfarin and Pulmicort.

Remember, dashes are different from hyphens. A dash – is longer than a hyphen -. Hyphens are used in compound nouns such as check-up or to show the link between multi-word phrases e.g. self-induced hyperglycemic episode. Hyphens are appropriate in formal writing.

For more information about the Writing sub-test, take a look at our OET Preparation Portal.