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The Write Stuff
June 2021 Volume 17 Issue 6

Quotation mark basics

Quotation marks are frequently used in business documents, often incorrectly. Here’s a brief guide.

Quoting individuals
The most common use for quotation marks is for direct quotes:

  • “The company had a successful year, despite the pandemic,” said CEO John Smith.

It’s worth noting that quotation marks aren’t used for indirect quotes:

  • CEO John Smith said the company had a successful year, despite the pandemic.

When the quote is a bit longer, I prefer to split it:

  • “The company had a successful year, despite the pandemic,” said CEO John Smith. “We do look forward to things getting back to normal.”

You can also split a quote that’s a single sentence:

  • “The company had a successful year,” said CEO John Smith, “despite the pandemic.”

Titles of works
If you follow AP Style, all titles of works are enclosed in quotation marks:

  • The “AP Stylebook” and “Chicago Manual of Style” differ on this point, the latter using italics for titles of books, magazines, newspapers and more.

Word emphasis
You may choose to use quotation marks to signify words used as words:

  • “Diversify” for a business means to enlarge or vary its range of products or field of opportunity.

Note: An alternative to using quotation marks in this situation is to italicize — something I prefer.

You may choose to use quotation marks to make scare quotes — showing you’re using a word in a non-literal sense — such as when it’s non-standard, colloquial or slang, or expressing  irony or disapproval:

  •  Many “experts” provide bad advice about punctuation.

Finally, single quotes should only be used within double quotes: “With the pandemic waning,” she said, “I imagine ‘Where should I go for vacation?’ is a question many people are asking themselves.”

Unnecessary

Is your writing filled with redundancies? Could be, since they can somewhat easily creep in to even the best writer’s content. Have you ever used the phrase you start by first…? That’s redundant. Tighten up your prose by choosing to use either start by or first (and if you opt for the latter, make sure there’s a second).

Verb vs noun

It is follow through or follow-through? Follow up or follow-up? All are correct, depending on usage. Without a hyphen, those words are verbs; with it, they’re nouns. You can follow through or follow up to solve a problem, and complete your follow-through or follow-up.

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