How to create shortcuts for the en and em dash on Windows 8!

Well, it took me over an hour of solid investigative work, but I’ve finally figured out how to input en and em dashes with ease!

This is pretty inside baseball, so this post is probably only going to apply to people who want to set up a shortcut for any symbols on their Windows machine, regardless of which application they are in.

The em dash—you know, the extended horizontal lines that surround this fragment—is useful for breaking up a train of thought; unfortunately, however, Microsoft keyboards don’t have an easy way of employing the em and en dashes outside of Microsoft Word. The other solution, unfortunately, is to use the numeric keypad; for instance:

Hold down one of the Alt keys and type on the numeric keypad: 0150 for an en dash or 0151 for an em dash. The dash appears when you release the Alt key. On a keyboard with no numeric keypad, use a Fn (Function) key combination to type the numbers.

Unfortunately, not everyone has a numeric keypad; some people—like my colleague—have a gaming keyboard, which neither has a numpad nor function key numbers. Besides, even if you do have the option to press “Alt+0151”, it is an extremely tedious option; moreover, it’s a struggle just to remember the numbers!

Here’s my long-term solution to remedy this annoying issue for Windows 8 users: (A similar concept should apply to other Windows users; simply search to find out how to add a new keyboard for your particular OS as necessary.)

  1. Download and install the Microsoft Keyboard Layout Creator 1.4 software package. (This link will automatically open a new tab for you.)
  2. Once you’ve installed and opened Microsoft Keyboard Layout Creator 1.4, simply open the program and select File → Load Existing Keyboard…
  3. Scroll down and select ‘US’—you should now see a fully populated keyboard layout.
  4. On the left you will notice that it says ‘Shift states:’ with ‘Shift’, ‘Alt+Ctrl (AltGr)’ and ‘Ctrl’; simply click ‘Alt+Ctrl (AltGr)’ to check the box.
  5. You should now see blank keys throughout the on-screen keyboard; this is a good thing.
  6. For an en-dash, simply copy the punctuation mark between the following quotes: “–”. Switch back to Microsoft Keyboard Layout Creator and click the key situated directly left of the ‘Backspace’ key. Paste your en dash into the text field and click ‘OK’.
  7. For the wider em-dash—you know, these ones—simply copy one one of the aforementioned em dashes and go back to Microsoft Keyboard Layout Creator. On the blank space directly left of your newly-installed en dash, click the blank button and paste your em dash. Hit ‘OK’.
  8. You’re almost done! To make sure you didn’t mess up the process, click Project → Test Keyboard Layout, then try Ctrl + Alt + (equals symbol [=]) for the en dash, and Ctrl + Alt + (hyphen symbol [-]) for the em dash. If it worked, then you’re almost done!
  9. On Microsoft Keyboard Layout Creator, select File → Save Source File As… (You can call it whatever you like; I just opted for saving it as ‘em dash’, but it’s totally up to you.
  10. Now click Project → Build DLL and setup package. When it asks you to open the director after creating the setup package, select ‘Yes’.
  11. Right click on ‘setup.exe’ (but just “setup” if you have file extensions hidden). Click ‘Run as administrator’. Once you’ve installed the custom keyboard, go to step 12.
  12. Copy this into an explorer window text field: Control Panel\Clock, Language, and Region\Language
  13. Press Enter. Once you’ve loaded it up, you should see English (United States). If you have another language installed, such as Australian, double-click that option. Under input method, select ‘Add an input method’. Scroll down and find your newly added custom keyboard, which is probably listed under ‘US – custom’ by default. Click ‘Add’. If you followed all of these instructions carefully, you should be done! Congratulations, pour yourself a celebratory drink!

Note: Although I didn’t have this issue, my colleague has noticed that you may need to exit and relaunch certain applications. Once you have done this, however, you should be golden for as long as your computer lives. Hooray.