Welcome, wordsmiths, to a journey through the intriguing realm of quotation mark usage tips. Don’t underestimate these small symbols — they can make or break your writing.
Today, I’m talking about using quotation marks. We’ll go over common mistakes and how to improve your writing.
Decoding Quotation Mark Conundrums
Have you ever stumbled upon a sentence that momentarily halted your reading flow?
Quotation marks are sometimes to blame for these brief hiccups. As an editor, I get asked about quotation marks a lot!
Should I use single or double quotation marks?
Hey, what exactly is a quote?
I’m confused about how to quote a text that has a citation. Help?
How the heck do I punctuate quotes within quotes?
Could you define indirect quotation for me?
Punctuation marks can be confusing, but I’ll show you how to use them confidently.
Spotting and Rectifying Quotation Mark Missteps
The more you understand punctuation, the simpler it becomes to catch quotation mark bloopers.
You won’t believe how much using quotation marks incorrectly can change a sentence.
I’ll give you some examples in this post, then break down each one and write clear sentences.
You’ll be a punctuation pro when we’re done, and your writing will be top-notch.
Guidelines for Effective Quotation Mark Usage
Let’s embark on a journey through five quotation mark usage tips that can transform your writing:
1. Quotation Marks Used for Emphasis
Just a heads up, using quotation marks to emphasise words is a mistake that lots of people make. You could run into some salesy wording like:
“Our fish is the ‘freshest’ in town!”
“Make ‘big’ savings when you purchase today!”
Using punctuation like that is a no-no and can appear sarcastic. To avoid unintentional irony, try using other emphasis techniques instead of quotation marks. For example, use bold text or italics.
2. Reported Speech: Using Quotation Marks Wisely
People mess up quotation marks a lot when they’re reporting what someone said.
Spot the difference between “He said, ‘I love pizza'” and “He said that he loves pizza” to use them correctly.
When you’re using reported speech, you don’t use quotation marks like you do with direct quotes. If you get this, your writing will be clearer.
3. Navigating ‘Scare Quotes’ with Care
‘Scare quotes’ are like air quotes, but they’re used to show non-standard or ironic terms.
When you use it correctly, it’s easier to read, but too much can be confusing.
- He is as “saintly” as Jabba the Hutt.
- So-called “notification laws” require businesses to “notify” customers when “certain” un-encrypted customer data is improperly accessed.
Figure out how to use scare quotes without overdoing it – balance is key. Once you understand this, it will make your writing more engaging and precise.
4. The Art of ‘Smart’ or ‘Curly’ and ‘Straight’ Quotation Marks
Quotation marks come in two styles: ‘smart’ or ‘curly’ quotes and straight quotes. You’ll be pleased to hear that the choice of which to use in your writing is entirely up to you.
Curly quotes are the traditional style, having been around since the 1700s. It’s how we teach children in school to write them. Straight quotes came from the typewriter; space was tight, so straight quotes saved some room!
Today you’ll see straight quotes on laptops, computers, and smartphone keyboards. Plus, straight quotes are coding-friendly. Curly quotes? Not so much. They cause compatibility issues when used in HTML.
Enter the ‘smart’ quotes. When you type, straight quotes become curly quotes thanks to word processors, making curly quotes common in typed writing once again.
You might notice a mix of both when you self-edit. Make sure your style is consistent throughout your work, changing them so they’re all the same.
In Microsoft Word, you can replace all straight quotes with smart quotes:
- Open the Replace tool and enter the type of quote mark (single or double) in the Find field.
- Enter the same quote mark in the Replace bar and click Replace All.
5. Punctuating Extended Dialogue with Finesse
It takes skill to write good dialogue, especially if it’s more than one paragraph.
I’ll show you how to use quotation marks when writing long conversations. With this technique, your characters’ conversations will flow smoothly and be easy to read.
In fiction, writers show dialogue by using a quote mark at the start and end of the spoken part. For example:
“We need to get out of here,” Beryl said. “I can’t wait an hour!”
When dialogue stretches over multiple paragraphs, there are some slight changes to the rules, such as a monologue or a long speech by a character.
In these cases, you should:
- Use an opening quotation mark at the start of each paragraph.
- Only use a closing quotation mark at the end of the last paragraph.
Let me give you an example. If you have a conversation, that’s two paragraphs long, you’d punctuate it like this:
Bob shook his head. “I don’t think we’re going anywhere yet,” he said. “The last time I was here, it was with Mark. And he is claustrophobic. So when the door slammed shut, like it just has, Mark freaked out. Annie and I – Annie was there, too – tried to calm him down. But it was no good. He was determined to get out as soon as possible.
“That didn’t work out. He checked every corner of the room for a key. Every nook and cranny. He tried kicking the door down and broke a toe in the process. He even tried digging out, but without tools, he just hurt his hands. And much good did it do him. No, if you ask me, we’re better off waiting. You’ll be here an hour either way.”
I haven’t used the quotation mark at the end of the first paragraph to show that the conversation carries on. But lots of writers either put a closing quote at the end of each paragraph or forget the opening quote for paragraphs after the first one.
When writing fiction, the rules are more like guidelines. Keep an eye out for how you’ve punctuated long passages of dialogue when self-editing. Remember, consistency is key.
Mastering Quotation Mark Usage
So, I’ve outlined five ways people mess up using quotation marks in this post.
Don’t forget these two steps for good punctuation:
1. Consult your style guide for quotation mark rules.
2. Maintain consistent punctuation throughout your manuscript.
Follow these guidelines, and your quotes will be on point, making your writing clearer and stronger.
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Unleash the power of punctuation and let your writing shine brighter than ever!
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