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Lesson 36: Numbers, Em-Dashes, and Ellipses

Here are a few more rules of good writing that you should certainly know.

Write Numbers Correctly

Most style manuals recommend the following:

Study the following examples:

Wrong Correct
  • The Eiffel Tower is one of the top 5 attractions in Paris.
  • 3 Rules of Good Writing
  • The Eiffel Tower is one of the top five attractions in Paris.
  • Three Rules of Good Writing


Learn to Punctuate Em-Dashes Correctly

An em-dash is a long dash—like this. It is called an em-dash because it it used to emphasize a certain word or phrase. For example—if I wanted to—I could use em-dashes to set apart a parenthetical phrase. Compare the following:

The problem is that many students don't know the difference between a hyphen and an em-dash.

How do you type an em-dash? It depends on what word processor you are using. In Microsoft Word, you can type two hyphens between words and the program will connect them automatically into an em-dash.

But we are using Google Docs, and in Google Docs you have to insert it through the menu.

  1. Click Insert / Special Characters
  2. In the search box, type in the letters "em".
  3. The computer now shows you several options. Click on the first one—the long-looking dash.
  4. Close the box.

Another common mistake is that students place spaces before and after their em-dash. Compare the following:

Learn How to Punctuate Ellipses Correctly

An Ellipses is those three little dots, like this . . .

They are used to show the reader that you have left something out. For example, if I am citing a long quote, I am allowed to cut out some of the author's words, as long as I indicate that I am doing so by the use of elipses. Study the following:

Original Sentence Sentence shortened with ellipses
The board of directors, after a long consultation with the mayor of San Francisco and nutrition experts from the Healthy Foods Foundation, decided to eliminate pizza from the lunch menu. The board of directors . . . decided to cut pizza from the lunch menu.


Ellipses can be useful. They are certainly a good way to cut a bunch of uneccesary information out of a long quote. Don't be afraid to use them.

However, there are two mistakes that students commonly make when using ellipses. First, students mistakenly think that an ellipses is three dots, like this...

Actually, an ellipses is "space dot space dot space dot" like this . . .

Furthermore, if the ellipses is in the middle of a sentence, then it consists of . . . three dots. But if the ellipses comes at the end of the sentence, it should consist of four dots . . . . (The fourth dot is actually the final period).

Mistakes with ellipses and em-dashes can creep into your paper when you copy and paste text from a website into your paper. Keep in mind that whenever you copy a sentence a webpage into your paper, you are actually copying a bunch of invisible formatting along with the text. And that formatting may look different or behave differently when it is imported into Google Docs.

So take the time to clean it up.

If you have copied a quote into your paper and the ellipses looks like this...change it so that it looks like this . . . or like this . . . .

Lesson Steps


Reread your paper, looking for any numbers. Did you follow the Numbers Rule?

  • Numbers Rule: Numbers from one to nine should be spelled out. Numbers larger than nine (10, 100, etc.) should be written in Arabic numerals.

Reread your paper, looking for any ellipses. Did you punctuate the ellipses correctly?

  • Put spaces between the dots in your ellipses.
  • If the ellipses is at the end of a sentence, add a final period.

Examine the em-dash in the first sentence of your conclusion. Did you punctuate it correctly? Are all your other em-dashes punctuated correctly (even the ones that you pasted into your paper)?

  • An em-dash is not the same as a hyphen. An em-dash is longer and needs to be inserted through the menu ribbon.
    • Insert / Special Characters / em-dash.
  • Don't put a space before or after your em-dashes. Study this example:
    • He left—I'm not sure why.

Congratulations! You're done with this lesson.