Where Do the Quotation Marks Go?

posted in: Writing 0

Number-lovers pursue careers in every field, with the accounting profession welcoming a significant percentage of these mathematically inclined individuals. In some cases, the affinity for math is matched by an equal appreciation for art, history and languages, but there are a good number of accountants who just plain didn’t enjoy English class. Let’s face it: writing isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.

Whether or not that’s true for you, your accounting firm needs well written, grammatically correct and properly punctuated marketing communications in order to deliver your message effectively. Where and when to use quotation marks is one of the punctuation issues that trips up writers all the time. Let’s take a quick tour of the rules, so that the next time you’re wondering, “inside or outside?” you’ll know exactly how to answer the question.

First, be aware that confusion regarding quotation marks in no way implies dementia. Sure, you learned them in school, but these rules are more variable and dynamic than almost any other point of grammar, so it’s completely reasonable to become less sure of the correct way to use quotation marks as time passes. Accepted protocols vary by region as well as context, and standard usage is changing rapidly to boot (partially because of increased exposure to this variability). The only constant is that quotation marks are used to set apart certain bits of text.

To show what someone said using their own words, i.e. a direct quote, here’s how to use quotation marks:

  • In the United States, commas and periods go inside quotation marks. That’s not true in many other English-speaking countries, so if you’ve seen British literature or news articles that place these marks outside, now you know why.
  • Colons and semi-colons go outside quotation marks.
  • Question marks and exclamations go inside if they apply to the quoted words (She asked, “Will you please pass the butter?”) and outside if they more properly modify the entire sentence (Who said, “Give me liberty or give me death”?).
  • Quotes inside of quotes require the use of single quotation marks. To avoid confusion, use single quotation marks for internal quotes. (She said, “I left the room right after he said, ‘To be or not to be, that is the question.’ He probably went on for hours.”)

When communicating technical instructions, put only the pertinent information inside the quotation marks. (Be sure to label your file as “V.3.0.21”.) Otherwise, readers might wonder whether the sentence’s punctuation should be included.

In computer programming, quotation marks are placed inside the symbols that separate one line of code from the next. Since so many people are coding these days, it’s common for them to adopt the same pattern in their writing. Combined with greater exposure to content written by non-U.S. authors, this is driving the trend toward confusion about quotation marks and will probably hasten an official change in the policy for American English.

Quotation marks are NOT used to show emphasis. Or rather, they are, but this is a mistake. It’s not only an egregious violation of punctuation rules, but also counter-productive. How do you feel about a store with “fresh” produce and “clean” restrooms? Excited to have my “gifted” kid at your school? Would you hire an “expert” plumber? How about a lawyer who promised he was “qualified”?

Misusing quotation marks in this way casts doubt on the claim, where none would have existed if the words were simply presented in their correct form. If you want to show emphasis use a bigger font, bold text, a different color or as many modifiers as you like. It may sound over the top, but it’s more appealing than a ride with a “careful” driver, a performance by a “talented” singer or a chance to leave your child with an “experienced” babysitter. Heck, use flashing neon lights or dancing babies, but whatever you do, don’t use quotation marks to make your point.

Follow Sarah:
Sarah Warlick is responsible for making us and all of our clients sound professional and eloquent as the content director at bbr marketing. In this role, Sarah is in charge of ensuring that all copy is well-written, accurate and free of pesky typos before it heads out the door. Additionally, she is a prolific writer and a frequent contributor to bbr marketing’s blog sites. She spends a good deal of time writing copy for our clients and has a unique way of crawling into our clients’ heads to create ghostwritten copy that sounds as if it came directly from their pen.
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