Quote marks are probably the most overused form of punctuation. Quote is short for quotation, so essentially, quote marks should be used only to set off a quotation—the verbatim text of something that was said or published. If you’re writing a novel and using quote marks for anything but dialogue—take them out!
Writers everywhere like to use quote marks around words they consider special for some reason or around words that are not being used in a traditional way. Old school editors call these scare quotes, a way of alerting the reader that the word may not mean what you think it does. Ninety percent of the time, the marks are completely unnecessary. If you’re writing logical sentences—even using euphemisms—readers know what you mean. Here’s a few examples of unneeded quote marks.
- “Quote” is short for “quotation.” (Did anyone misread the sentence when I wrote it earlier without the punctuation?)
- After a few minutes in the club, John decided to wander back and watch the “dancers.” (Yes, we all know that dancers is a polite way of saying strippers. Does your character think of them of dancers or strippers? Use one or the other without quote marks, because it tells us something about your character.)
For a look at some extreme examples of excessive quote mark usage, check this site.
The Blog of Unnecessary Quotation Marks
L.J. Sellers is an award-winning journalist and editor and is the author of the Detective Jackson mysteries, The Sex Club and Secrets to Die For. She also loves to edit fiction and works with authors to keep her rates affordable. Contact her at:
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