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When typing texts on Word, Notepad or even in Google Docs. I want to use the dash symbol. Note that symbol is used in dialogs.

All keyboards simply doesn't have the dash symbol (Alt+0151), so most people use the hyphen character (the minus signal on numeric keypad).

Note the difference:

Hyphen symbol: -
Dash symbol: —

When writing books or another text using dialogs is specially painful the absence of dashes... IMHO dashes are not special characters, but (very) common characters!

Some writer here lived that situation? How it's possible that none noted that absence/problem? How do you solved that problem?

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<Compose><-><-><-> –  Ignacio Vazquez-Abrams Oct 26 '10 at 4:55
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Note that there are two (common) versions of a dash: the em dash —, which you're showing, and the shorter en dash –. –  doncherry Sep 16 '11 at 14:48
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4 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

There are three kinds of people:

  • Most people don't care.
  • Some people do care, but are technically unsophisticated and use poor tools and so find a way to copy-paste the character from a web page (the wikipedia article on the character or script is a good candidate), or use a character map program (even Windows ships with one). (These are actually reasonable ways to input rarely-used characters. The dashes are not rare enough to qualify though.)
  • Some people do care, and use better tools:

    • Unix systems traditionally have a Compose key. You press Compose ' e and get é. With current common default settings (X.org, utf-8), Compose - - - gives an em-dash and Compose - - . gives an en-dash .
    • For Windows, there are third-party programs that provide a Compose key. AllChars is one possibility; it has the em-dash and en-dash on Compose - m and Compose - n respectively by default.
    • Markup languages typically have a way of specifying characters through ASCII sequences, for example --- and -- for em-dash and en-dash in TeX, or &mdash; and &ndash; in HTML.
    • Word processors such as Microsoft Word and Open Office have an autocorrection feature that can change --- to (I think both in fact have this one in their default settings).
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In Word 2003, go to the Tools menu, AutoCorrect Options... and select the AutoFormat As You Type tab. Under Replace as you type, check the check box in front of Hyphens (--) with dash(—).

I usually use LaTeX, in which case a dash is indicated in the source by three hyphens, or HTML, in which case a dash is indicated by &mdash;.

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Most X keyboard layouts have 1 or more easy ways to enter an en-dash and/or an em-dash without needing to remember Unicode codepoints—either by using a compose key and/or by providing a third & fourth (and sometimes even 5th & 6th) level of characters per key.

I guess there are probably some 3rd party tools for Windows to offer that functionality too...

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The Neo Keyboard Layout looks promising if you're a German user. It has the en- and em-dashes on its second level. I've installed it, but never got around to "learn" it. –  doncherry Sep 16 '11 at 14:46
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In Finland, we are moving towards a new standard Finnish multilingual keyboard layout, which makes it much easier to enter dashes and other "special" characters. For example, pressing Alt Gr and hyphen creates an en dash. In the long run, more sophisticated keyboard layouts would be the best solution in other countries, too.

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