I recently asked a question on English Language & Usage, and it was received poorly. Now, I have nothing against criticism, but I just wonder why. Here's the question.

What should I use when introducing dialogue, hyphens, en-dashes or em-dashes?

There is no comment notifying me about my question's flaw(s). I'm not saying it was perfect, I'm just asking guidance for asking better questions, and what I did wrong in this one.

  • I thought the question was fine.
    – Mitch
    Commented Jul 26, 2018 at 12:57

2 Answers 2


The negative reaction might have been precipitated by any one of three different elements of your question.

Firstly, while I don't see any obvious flaw with the core question about which kind of dash should be used if you're choosing an unorthodox writing style that uses them for dialogue, the way you presented the question - "I have always use [sic] the hyphen when introducing dialogue" may have been a bit confronting. The reaction might have been along the lines of "that's not standard English so this is a bad question." Even the title seems to presuppose that the three options are acceptable alternatives to orthodox quotation marks - a view that some at least might disagree with.

In this particular case, you might have diffused some of this negative reaction by reminding everyone that punctuation is a matter of style rather than grammar - and perhaps linking to a few answers by senior users who often make this very point. Perhaps emphasising that you acknowledge the standard approach to dialogue but you're interested in alternative styles. Are there any famous works in English that use dashes in this way? [Emily Dickinson used ubiquitous em dashes, but not for dialogue per se].

Secondly, you added "Also, a little side question. Is it normal, and acceptable to use hyphens and dashes as dialogue starters?" It's possible you may have received a downvote for this: questions should not, as a general rule, have multiple components or "little side questions". Stick to the issue in the question title.

Lastly, your closing sentence "I'm not looking solely for your individual opinions, as that is off-topic, but rather numbers on what the majority prefers" [my emphasis]. Uh-uh, that's a survey, and definitely out of bounds.

So unfortunately, your interesting question included multiple triggers for a negative reaction.

However, don't be dismayed! Your question also had many positives: you received 4 upvotes, there was useful commentary, and your question resulted in two answers, one of which you liked enough to tick. You've asked for advice here on Meta, and hopefully this will assist in eliminating the danger points in future questions. Don't be put off by downvotes, and keep honing your craft as an ELU user :-)

  • Thank you very much for this, you enlightened me very much. I believe I will look this answer up in the future when I need help to construct a question. Just wondering, why is surveys on what is grammatically acceptable out of bounds? If I know the reason I believe I'll more easily remember not to ask questions regarding survey related information.
    – A. Kvåle
    Commented Aug 6, 2018 at 20:51
  • I recommend you take the Tour of the ELU site. After that, read the help pages on How to Ask and How to Answer. These resources are much better than my answer! They'll explain that Stack Exchange wants questions that will be interesting to many people (not just the questioner) and answers that provide definitive solutions, preferably with linked references. This is the opposite of a "survey" where you want to get a sense of a "majority" viewpoint. The key is to ask your question in a way that encourages a definitive answer rather than a broad range of opinions. I hope this helps :-) Commented Aug 6, 2018 at 23:51

No research was indicated in your question.

You can google your question title for a start. The results are plentiful and include at least four related questions on this very site, as well as other sites chock full of information. Tell us which sites you checked, what information you obtained, and why that information was not sufficient. See How much research is needed? and the fine answer by moderator Andrew Leach.

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