Posted by: Jack Henry | April 29, 2014

Editor’s Corner: Quotation Marks and Direct Quotations

There’s a good reason I left quotation marks for last in our discussion of overused punctuation. Quotation marks come with many more rules than exclamation points and question marks. Not only is the list of rules long—it changes depending which side of the pond you live on. The British and American standards for using quotation marks are different. We’re going to stick with the American standards.

The primary use of quotation marks is to set off direct spoken or written language. Quotation marks are also used heavily in fiction to indicate dialog. In business writing, you will use them for the former reason, to quote passages from books, people, and resources. As one of my favorite resources, the Purdue OWL says, the “successful use of quotation marks is a practical defense against accidental plagiarism and an excellent practice in academic honesty.”

The following rules and examples are also from the Purdue OWL article on quotation marks. We will cover additional rules over the next day or two.

Direct Quotations

Direct quotations involve incorporating another person’s exact words into your own writing.

1. Quotation marks always come in pairs. Do not open a quotation and fail to close it at the end of the quoted material.

2. Capitalize the first letter of a direct quote when the quoted material is a complete sentence.

Mr. Johnson, who was working in his field that morning, said, "The alien spaceship appeared right before my own two eyes."

3. Do not use a capital letter when the quoted material is a fragment or only a piece of the original material’s complete sentence.

Although Mr. Johnson has seen odd happenings on the farm, he stated that the spaceship "certainly takes the cake" when it comes to unexplainable activity.

Don’t use quotation marks for emphasis! Italicize the word instead. Quotation marks indicate you are using a word in an unusual or special way. Often the reader will see quotation marks around words as a warning that the word is being used in an abnormal or weird way. In the following examples, you can see that the words in quotations marks should not be seen as abnormal, or the seller will never get rid of their goods or sell their services:

Looks like catfish, tastes like chicken—but what is it really?

So do they groom dogs, or by “dog” to they mean horses? Hamsters? Billy goats?

Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

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