umbo wrote (well, ranted at the end of a very long and incredibly hellish day =):
If you're needing a dash in the middle of the sentence--like here--you do *not* use a space and a hyphen and another space (like - this). You use a dash. A dash is longer than a hyphen, and it does not have spaces before or after it--just the words. When you type such things in Word, it automatically changes the two hyphens put together to a dash, but this doesn't translate properly in HTML--it'll turn into a single hyphen, which is wrong. So if you turn off the autoformatting and use the two hyphens together, that's the correct thing. That's what I was taught when I was taught typing. Go ahead, look in any printed book you have, and you'll see that I'm right. There are no spaces! You don't use hyphens, you use dashes! They're longer than hyphens! Hyphens are for when you split a word in two, either because it's a two-part word (see how I just did that?) or because you don't have enough room for the word on the line before returning to the next paragraph, which almost never happens in these days of word processing--it may happen when your professional manuscript goes to be typeset, but it's not gonna happen in a web-published fanfic.
It's an em dash, it's longer that the '-' and is usually represented in plain text as two dashes... or what we've come to call "a dash". It just looks like one in novels and other traditional media publications. In the world of ASCII and now, Unicode, the hyphen has been prevalent, presumably because Geeks don't see, care or need to know what the difference is. It makes no difference in the ability to get our ideas out. Just like all of us* who have to develop software for the printing and publishing industry think smart quotes — 66s and 99s — are useless and a pain in the ass** =}
It turns out that some manuals of style don't use spaces between the long dash and the surrounding words, but some do. Some say it's an American vs. British thing; some show that American manuals of style will pad it out with spaces as well. I think I'm going to pad it out with spaces. It's less crowded and easier to read that way (especially in italics, now that I'm looking at it). I'm Canadian, I'll do it my own way and you're lucky I didn't add a vowel to it. >KD
Incidentally, most geeks absolutely NEED to disable the hell out of AutoCorrect and AutoFormat in MS Word. When you're writing implementation docs and you paste in snippets of code into it, the last thing you want is MicroSchyte changing the decrement operator ("--") into an em dash which copies back to plain text as a single '-'. And guess what? Some co-op/intern will copy it verbatim into their code. It not only breaks something, but will manifest as some really weird cryptic error message or just nebulously strange software behaviour and it will take hours/days/weeks for the software team to de-fucking-bug.
*HHRRRAAAAAAGGGHHHH* Place your bets now for how many co-ops the bride has drop-kicked out the boardroom window for doing that.
* Okay, just me...
** In fact, George Bernard Shaw (very decidedly A Non-Geek and very well respected for his non-geekedness) refused to use apostrophes for contractions, calling them "uncouth bacilli". =)