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Editing Tip: Punctuating Quotations

Summary

In this article, we provide the conventions of some of the more complex punctuation rules (quotations within quotations, ellipses, etc.) within quotation marks.

Quotations can provide supporting evidence for your ideas and make your prose more engaging for your reader. To integrate this type of information into your writing, the following punctuation rules may be of help:

Framing a quotation: Single and double quotation marks

In American English, double quotation marks (“sentence”) are usually used to frame quotations, whereas single quotation marks (‘sentence’) are used to delineate a quotation within another quotation. The placement of adjacent punctuation varies as follows: commas and periods should always be placed within quotation marks, colons and semicolons should be placed outside, and exclamation points and question marks are placed inside only if they are part of the quoted phrase. In contrast, in British English, the use of double and single quotation marks is often reversed, and punctuation is typically placed within quotation marks only if included in the original phrase.

Integrating a quotation: Colons and commas

You should integrate a quotation into the surrounding text, not only by introducing and interpreting its content but also by using appropriate punctuation. Quoted information is frequently preceded by a colon, as in this example: <ul> <li> This is a key sentence from James Watson and Francis Crick’s landmark paper on the structure of DNA: “The novel feature of the structure is the manner in which the two chains are held together by the purine and pyrimidine bases.”</li> </ul> As described in a previous post, the phrase preceding the colon must be an independent clause.

Alternatively, a quotation may be set off by a comma or by no punctuation at all, depending on the sentence structure: <ul> <li> Watson and Crick wrote, “The novel feature of the structure is the manner in which the two chains are held together by the purine and pyrimidine bases.” (quotation preceded by a comma)</li> <li> Watson and Crick wrote that “The novel feature of the structure is the manner in which the two chains are held together by the purine and pyrimidine bases.” (no preceding punctuation)</li> </ul>

Abridging and clarifying a quotation: Ellipses and brackets

An ellipsis () may be used to shorten a quotation, particularly if a portion of the quotation is not directly pertinent for your purposes. However, you should be sure not to alter the meaning of the quotation in the process. Here is an example based on the previously cited quotation: <ul> <li> “The novel feature of the structure is the manner in which the two chains are held together by the purine and pyrimidine bases.” (original quotation)</li> <li> “The novel feature of the structure is the manner in which the two chains are held together by…bases” (abridged quotation with accurate meaning)</li> <li> “The novel feature of the structure is the manner in which the two chains are held together by…pyrimidine bases.” (abridged quotation with inaccurate meaning)</li> </ul>

In the second sentence, the words “the purine and pyrimidine” were omitted, but the sentence still highlights an accurate fact: that the way in which the two chains are linked is novel. In contrast, in the third sentence, the ellipsis may cause misinterpretation. In particular, the reader may be led to believe that the new feature is the linkage by pyrimidine bases alone, even though purine bases are also involved.

Brackets ([ ]) are typically used to add clarifying information to a quotation. For example, if you think that your audience will not understand the phrase “purine and pyrimidine bases,” you could revise the quotation in one of two ways: <ul> <li> “The novel feature of the structure is the manner in which the two chains are held together by the purine and pyrimidine bases [the building blocks of DNA].” (addition of clarification)</li> <li> “The novel feature of the structure is the manner in which the two chains are held together by [complementary chemical groups].” (replacement with clarification)</li> </ul>

In the first case, the reader can view both the original text and a bracketed clarification of that text, which is similar to a parenthetical. In the second case, the potentially confusing material is completely replaced with a clarification that is still grammatically correct within the sentence.

We hope this tip has clarified how to punctuate quotations in your scholarly writing. As always, please feel free to contact us at [email protected]. We wish you the best in your research and writing endeavors!

Tags Writing a manuscript Editing tips Quotes Quotations In-text citations Punctuation

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