Quotation marks serve several functions in US English writing. Knowing how to use quotes properly is important for technical, creative and academic writing, but the rules for using them aren’t always well-known. This article will attempt to clarify the proper use of quotation marks for each writing situation, including the use of any associated punctuation.
For the examples in this article, double quotation marks will be considered as the primary standard, according to US English writing conventions. In British English, it’s common, but not necessarily standard, for single quotation marks to be used as the primary form and double quotes as secondary. Single quotes will be discussed in this article, but only as a secondary form of punctuation that will be explained later in the article.
Types of Quotation Marks
Before delving into usage conventions, it’s worthwhile to take a few minutes to talk about different types of quotes and their purpose. Writing and publishing standards have changed over the past century and it’s important for writers to consider which form of quotation marks is suitable for a given project.
“Curly”, “book” or “smart” quotes were the original form and at one time, the only accepted standard for English writing. Generally speaking, the quote character is identical to a curved comma raised to superscript level and inverted for the opening quote. These are typically the type of quotes found in books and other materials from publishing houses.
As technology advanced, the “straight” or “dumb” quotation mark form was developed in order to reduce the number of keys required on typewriter keyboards. This form was adopted in personal computer keyboards. Later, as internet technologies became available to the public, this form of quote was the first to be standardized as an HTML character entity, again for the sake of simplicity. As of this writing, creating “curly” quotes in a standards-compliant HTML document requires the use of a numeric entity code and that may not be supported in all web browsers.
Given the condensed history lesson above, it would be easy to assume that book quotes would be required in any writing for hardcopy publication and straight quotes would be the standard for web or electronic documents. There are a number of instances in which this isn’t the case, so it’s imperative for writers to know which form is appropriate for the task at hand. Consult writer’s guidelines or speak with publishers or employers to determine which to use for your application. Modern word processing software can usually be set to use either when the quote keys are pressed on your keyboard.