How to Use Quotation Marks

On my to-do list was a note to write you a post about the correct use of quotation marks. Then I discovered that Jonathon Owen over at Arrant Pedantry had already done so. His article is useful and thorough, so I’ll send you over there to learn How to Use Quotation Marks. He even has a nifty flow chart.

quotation marks

Photo © Alliance • Fotolia

I especially like Owen’s comments about scare quotes. Those are the quotes people put around a word to draw attention to it for … well, no good reason, actually, as Owen explains. Whenever you are tempted to put scare quotes around a term, I want you to imagine you are speaking to an audience and when you get to that part of your writing, you make “air quotes” with your “fingers” every time you put “scare quotes” around a term. Continue reading

How to Use Notes and Bibliographies

The next item on the Nonfiction Editing Checklist has to do with citing your sources:

Footnotes, endnotes, blind notes, and reference lists have been used appropriately and are formatted correctly.

The Chicago Manual of Style offers several options for citing your sources. The first of these is the least formal, and the last is the most formal:

  • In-text citations
  • Notes with bibliography
  • Author-date references with list

The more scholarly your audience, or the more technical your work, the more likely it is you will need one of the latter two systems.


Photo by Thomas Bethge • Fotolia

Continue reading

Take Extra Care with Scripture Citations

Quoting Shakespeare is one thing. It’s easy enough to open a copy of Hamlet to get a citation right.

Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio; a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy.—William Shakespeare. The Tragedy of Hamlet Prince of Denmark. The Harvard Classics 1909–14. Act V, Scene I. Via

But when you are quoting from Scripture, you must take extra care. I do a lot of work in the Christian submarket, and the number of errors I see in Scripture quotations is appalling. I don’t know whether editors working in other religious fields run into similar issues. I suppose they do, because humans tend to be more alike than we are different. Continue reading

Q&A: Quotations versus Dialogue

Q: I have literally hundreds of quotes in my autobiography, and after reading your post about them, I’m really confused. Most of what I’m writing about is not quoting a known source like Mark Twain. Rather, it’s in the form of he said, “blah, blah, blah” when I’m relating a story or incident. I don’t even know if this deserves quote marks, and I have been very inconsistent in how I use them.

A: What you’re describing is dialogue, which is different from quotations. Continue reading

Verify the Sources of Your Quotations

One of the most common problems I see in new writers’ nonfiction manuscripts is quotations that are either inaccurate, insufficiently sourced, or both.

You have in your notes, if not in the text, citations and links for your sources.

Sites like BrainyQuote,, and even Goodreads, which should know better, propagate quotations without verifying the sources. Before you reproduce a quotation in your book, track it to its source—the very first place it ever appeared. You may find this hard to believe, but often this proves rather difficult. The Internet doesn’t know everything. Continue reading

How to format different kinds of quotations

When you’re incorporating quotations in a nonfiction work, there are two ways to do it. Short quotations can be placed inline, in which case you use quotation marks. Longer quotations should be placed in a block format, in which case you don’t need the marks.

using quotation marks

© AKS –

For example, a short quotation might be something like, “Prose extracts (also known as block quotations) should have double line spacing,” as stated in The Chicago Manual of Style. Continue reading

When to use single or double quotation marks

Considering that the rules for quotation marks are relatively simple (I mean, compared to something really complicated like the comma), it’s surprising how often we see errors with them.

In dialog, stuff that’s said aloud goes in quotation marks. “I can’t believe she said that.” (Stuff that’s not said aloud is sometimes set in italics.) Simple enough. Few writers struggle with that.

using quotation marks

© AKS –

Single quotes are used when you have a quote within a quote: “I can’t believe she said ‘irregardless.’” There are a few other publication styles that call for single quotes—for example, a lot of newspapers use them in headlines because they take up less space—but a quote within a quote is about the only time most writers need to use single quotation marks. Continue reading