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Quick Tip on Hyphenation

This post should go under the category “Things I Should Have Known.” It’s about hyphenation.

Did you know that in Microsoft Word you can insert an optional hyphen? You are probably wondering why you would want to.

Example: Imagine you are writing a two-column piece such as a newsletter article. Because you are using a narrow two-column format, you may need to divide a long word to avoid having a large blank space. For example:

To avoid this blank space after electronic,

Despite our electronic
communications, we are all human.

Do this:

Despite our electronic communica-
tions, we are all human.

But what if you then edited your sentence and shortened it? You would need to avoid ending up with this error:

Despite our communica-tions, we
are all human.

To avoid having a hyphen you don’t want, insert an “optional hyphen”–a hyphen that disappears if it is not necessary–rather than a regular hyphen.

To insert the optional hyphen in Microsoft Word, go to Insert/Symbol/Special Characters/Optional Hyphen. Or use the shortcut Control- (Control hyphen).

Happy hyphenating!

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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.