Jul 17, 2009

Word is messing with your quotation marks

This is a post about quotation marks and apostrophes, but you don't need to learn any rules. Because this is not a post about punctuation, it is a post about Microsoft Word. I don't really understand Word, but it seems to be working against us all. Hide your children!

Ahem. " and ' problems that are not your fault fall into the following categories:

  • The "randomly applied curly quote" category. Notice that when you type " or ', it at first looks like a little straight line. Most of the time, if you've turned on this option, Word will turn the little straight lines into little curly lines. But sometimes, it does not. I don't know what y'all are doing - are you pasting portions of your MS into the Word document from Gmail or Notepad or something? Is that what does it? Whatever it is, it results in "/' going back and forth. This is very distracting and bad, and positively dreadful when it makes it into a printed book. One of my recent self-published review books seriously went back and forth every few pages, and at many points the opening and closing quotation marks in the SAME LINE would be in different styles. Bad.
  • The "apostrophe or opening-quotation mark?" category. When a word or number starts with an apostrophe ("I went to this place back in '94!" or "Y'all don't know whatcha talkin' 'bout") the apostrophe is supposed to curl away from the attached word. Word does not know this, and will almost always curl it towards the word as if it were a single open-quote. This can actually confuse the reader, especially if you've been nesting single and double quotation marks a lot, so as trivial as it seems, this is important to catch.
  • The "I forgot what kind of quotes I'm using" category. I guess I can't *really* blame Word for this, though in a perfect world, Word would send paper-clip-man to you to say "Er, hey! I noticed you were doing European-style quotation formatting (- Why no, he said, I didn't steal your foie gras) and now now you're back to American-style ("Nuh-uh," he said, "I ain't never seen any pheasant as big as that there one before."). So...should we not do that?" I recently read a self-published book that was nearly flawless in its editing, but it actually went back and forth between these all through the book. It was really bizarre.
If your book is going to be professionally published, all this will get picked up in proofreading. One hopes. But if you're self-publishing, for goodness sake watch out for these while you're editing.


Hayley said...

The straight up-and-down quotes do come (usually) from pasting into Word from another program. This happens all the time when reporters email us their stories.

Luckily, a Replace All will fix this up pretty quickly -- the trick is to do it immediately, the second you see the first offensive straight dude.

When it comes to the '90s, I usually type ''90s, then go back and delete the first one. Labour-intensive? Please. The backspace key is Right There!

Erin said...

Hahaha - I think you've got it figured out...I usually copy an apostrophe from elsewhere and paste it in there, which is way harder. I'm using your way from now on.

Emilie said...