If you write for the web and want to be polished and professional, then you want to be typographically correct. Below is a guide on what those correct punctuation marks are, and how to create them.
What’s the Problem?
When you write with a good word processor such as Microsoft Word, it will (in most cases) automatically use or substitute the correct punctuation for you. For example, if you typed this:
The company president wrote "The biggest impact--this isn't an exaggeration--is a 3/4 loss of revenues . . ." in an urgent email this morning.
The punctuation characters would be corrected to use the proper symbols like this:
The company president wrote “The biggest impact—this isn’t an exaggeration—is a ¾ loss of revenues…” in an urgent email this morning.
The “wrong” versions are fine for casual or personal communications with friends. But if you want your post to be polished and professional, you’ll want to use the visually appealing and grammatically correct versions. The easiest method for that is to use a word processor with the smarts to do that for you, such as Microsoft Word or Google Docs. But even those tools may sometimes not understand your intent, and you’ll need to make a manual adjustment. You’ll also find that working on the web often means you’ll have to manually enter these symbols. For example, when creating a blog post, composing an online article, or writing a feature for a business Facebook page.
Below is a chart of the special characters I most commonly use. For foreign language characters (like Ç) or esoteric mathematical symbols (such as Σ), you’ll can find thousands of them on a Unicode character tables (like this). The easiest way to get these characters into a web document is Copy & Paste. But if you’re using them frequently, it can be easier and quicker to type their codes. Because I write on the web so frequently, I’ve come to memorize the codes for quotation marks, apostrophes, and em dashes. And it’s much faster to type in their numeric codes than to open a reference, find the symbol, copy it, navigate back to where it’s needed, and then paste it.
Chart of Common Special Characters
How to Use
Copy & Paste the desired punctuation from the “Symbol” column of this chart.
For Windows users: you can alternatively use the keyboard combination shown in the “Combo” column. For example, to create the copyright symbol (©) the combo is Alt-0169. That is instructing you to HOLD down the ALT key while tapping 0, then 1, then 6, then 9 on the numeric keypad. Release the ALT key and the symbol appears. Any digits in a combo must be entered using the numeric keypad—not the numbers above the letter keys.
|—||Alt‑0151||Em Dash: breaks, interruptions, or redactions|
|–||Alt‑0150||En Dash: ranges, connect/compare (but not join) words (e.g.,Sarbanes–Oxley Act)|
|-||Alt‑045||Hyphen: join words (e.g., topsy-turvy)|
|“||Alt‑0147||Double Quote open|
|”||Alt‑0148||Double Quote close|
|"||Alt‑034||Double Quote straight|
|‘||Alt‑0145||Single Quote open|
|’||Alt‑0146||Single Quote close / Apostrophe|
|'||Alt‑039||Single Quote straight|
|Alt‑255||Non-breaking Space (mimic HTML’s )|
Many manuals of style recently called for the replacement of two spaces between sentences with just a single space. The twin spaces are a holdover from the days of typewriters and typographes have declared them visually disruptive on web pages. It’s not a special character per se as much as it is a habit to break. For an oldtimer like me, who learned to type on a manual typewriter in the ’70s, and then constantly practiced the twin-space convention for 40 years, it may be impossible for me. My only hope is when I’m working with tools that allow global search-and-replace, and then only when I remember the “right” way is now the “wrong” way.
And speaking of grammatical correctness, the proper use of the above symbols is beyond the scope of this article. But I have added a short note for a few of them, in the chart above, as reminders of proper usage. If in doubt, an internet search along the lines of “when should I use an em dash?” will lead you to plenty of well-written grammar and style guides.