What is the optimal kind of separator in a legend to use between a key and description?

For example, in this specific case:

A001 - Description for A001, A002 - Description for A002, A003 - Description for A003

should an en/em dash be used instead of the hyphen, colon, equality sign or something else?

In my case it's a legend for a table, purely textual, with no icons. I understand that with icons present no separator might be needed.

  • Is it not enough to use a bigger space between a key and its description (since a legend is essentially a table)? Maybe take a look at the documentation of the booktabs LaTeX package, there are beautiful, simple examples and good reasoning there: ctan.org/pkg/booktabs
    – Philipp
    Jul 31, 2018 at 9:53
  • Thanks! Might be a good idea, at least if the key is highlighted with formatting somehow. Jul 31, 2018 at 12:37

3 Answers 3


I prefer the way you have the key and description in your original question. That is a hyphen. If there are commas in the description, then use a semi-colon for separation of each key and description pair.

If not, I would use a different font for the indication of the key as opposed to the separator. For example, here's a superscript approach.

[A100] Description of the first key., [A101] Description of the second key., [A102] Description of the next key.

I also used weight and a square bracket but this might be too much emphasis.

  • Thanks! Superscript option is interesting. Also the way you did it gives me an idea to try removing separators and instead using just font weight. Somehow I'm not sure about hyphens since they are usually not meant for key-description pairs it seems (at least according to this guide practicaltypography.com/hyphens-and-dashes.html). Aug 2, 2018 at 8:59
  • @certainlyakey The link you provided to Butterick's Practical Typography in your comment is appreciated. Many thanx.
    – Stan
    Aug 2, 2018 at 14:15

When doubting, the best it's to analyze its real orthography use:

The M-dash (or long dash) (–)

  • To replace the parentheses when we insert one sentence into another.
  • In the dialogue, to indicate that the other speaker is talking: –Hi!–, he said.

The N-dash (or short dash) (-)

  • Separate syllables of a word at the end of a line
  • Separate a compound word
  • Separate dates that indicate a period: 1900-1950

Interpunct (•)

It has orthographic meanings in some languages, most of them to separate words, but one of the uses is:

  • In signal words (centered) to separate categories, especially if they are capitalized: HARDWARE • BRICOLAGE • PAINTINGS.

The Vertical Bar (|)

Among its varied uses, especially in mathematics and programming, there is a use in old printing systems:

  • In horizontal position under a title, or just vertical to separate two texts


Among its varied uses, the one that refers to words indicates:

  • To give no more than two or three options: Day/Month/Year. Indicates that the options have a specific beginning and end.

Source: Wikipedia

This is my suggestion, but it depends on the context in which the text is placed, the quantity of items, the type of info, the repetition... Careful with the visual effect that an extreme repetition produce, don't forget we are visual designers:

first – second – third – fourth – fifth – sixth – seventh

first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh

first • second • third • fourth • fifth • sixth • seventh

first | second | third | fourth | fifth | sixth | seventh
  • If it's a short list: bullets
  • If they are some short description text: middle point.
  • If it's a long items text: colon
  • If the text has a similar number of characters in a single word, using tab spaces is a good option, like a virtual table:


  • What would be your suggestion then? It seems that each of these options is not optimal. Jul 31, 2018 at 12:35
  • answer update with suggestions
    – user120647
    Jul 31, 2018 at 13:14
  • Thanks @Danielillo! In the question, I meant the separator between the key and description of each item, not each item per se. Jul 31, 2018 at 13:29

Proper English grammar suggests a series comma to separate items as you have done.

A semi-colon is also acceptable but not so correct.

This is an English grammar question, not a design one. (It might even be off-topic for here.)

  • Thanks. In the question, I meant the separator between the key and description of each item, not each item per se. Aug 1, 2018 at 7:26

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