On Editing w/pro-tips – Quotations

So I’m editing now.

Stuff other than my own work!

As I have been working, I have noticed a few habits writers sometimes have.

I’ve lived in my own little bubble of my own writing for a long time, so I’m really only able to talk about this now.

First, understand that as you write, you will have spelling, punctuation, and grammar errors. That is acceptable as no one is perfect. Amazingly enough, some of those errors will remain even after a professional editor gone over your work.

Again, no one is perfect. My child loves taking time out of her work to point out typos in her workbook. This is her school work, the thing that is supposed to help her learn, and it is full of typos.

So, you get the idea. Your work will probably never be completely free of errors. That is just how it goes.

That being said, I do think it is important for writers to understand some basic conventions of spelling and grammar, so that the mistakes they make are just that – mistakes. If an editor has to go through and consistently change the same thing, that is more than just a mistake. That is something that as a writer, you need to learn to do correctly.

For example,


Quotation marks are not used to emphasize text. I know that we think they are because of the habit we have of using air quotes. Quotation marks are first of all meant to identify either spoken words or to draw attention to the name of something.

“I am going to the store,” Mark said.

I hate when people request “Every Breath You Take” on Valentine’s Day. It really creeps me out.

Both of those are the correct usage of quotation marks.

Note that I use the double marks, ” “, to start and end the quotes. The only time you use single marks, ‘ ‘, for quotations or to indicate names is if the quote or name falls within dialogue text.

“I really hate when people request ‘Every Breath You Take’ on Valentine’s Day,” Lynn said. “It really creeps me out.”

“When he said, ‘I love you,’ I just wanted to scream,” she said.

You do not use quotations for all titles, only for titles that relate to short works. Longer titles, such as novels or works that contain shorter works, would be either underlined or italicized.

The reason that we tend to use quotation marks for emphasis is a misunderstanding.

I am a “wealthy” author.

You are my “favorite” reader. No, really. You are. Don’t let the quotes make you think differently.

In both of these examples, I am using the quotation marks, but not for emphasis. I am using them to indicate that a word is used either ironically or with reservation. I am by no means wealthy. The second example is just me being smart. You get the point, though. To those not paying attention to why the quotation marks are used, this may look simply like emphasis, and that is not the case.

If you want to emphasize a word, you would use either the underline, italics, or bold, depending on the purpose of the emphasis.

You do not use quotations merely to draw attention to a word unless you are doing so for an ironic reason.

You can use quotations to pull a direct quote to use in something else.

The Commission really pissed me off with their ruling. The schools “are not performing to standards” and therefore cannot get extra funding for education.

In the above quote, I am obviously quoting something from the Commission’s findings. You would only do this for a series of words. There is no need to quote a single word. Unless, of course, the person you are talking about has made up a word.

To coin a term from Mrs. Palin, I would like to “refudiate” bad grammar.

There are other times that it would be appropriate to quote a single word, for example if a person or character has a catch-word that he or she is known to use.

Quagmire is a disgusting character, and his antics are often disturbing. Still, one cannot help but find the use of “gig-giddy” to be contagious.

When I hear the word “Geronimo,” I know that it is time to have an adventure with the Doctor.

In these cases, even though I am not making a statement where I am quoting the character, I am using a word the character is known to say. By quoting, I let my reader know that these are words specific to the character in question.

The other big issue I see regularly with quotation marks is punctuation. While I understand it can be confusing sometimes, when you write fiction knowing how to quote properly is very important. Again, while mistakes may happen, repeating the same offense over and over means you need to learn.

When you are quoting dialogue, keep punctuation inside the quotation marks and do not double punctuate.

“I am going now,” he said. – Note that the spoken sentence ends with a comma since I am following it with an identifier. The identifier is only captialized if it is a proper noun, and you end with a period. 

“Why are you leaving now?” she asked. – The spoken sentence ends with a question mark, since it is a question. Again, the identifier is only capitalized if it is a proper noun and you end it with a period. 

Jim looked at Susan. “I am leaving because I have had enough.” – No identifier is needed because the quote follows an action directly linked to the dialogue – Jim looks at Susan. The statement before is punctuated normally. The quoted statement is punctuated inside the quotation marks. 

Susan sighed heavily and said, “Would you think about the children?” – Since an identifier is being used – said – a comma is placed after it. The quoted statement is capitalized just as it normally would be at the beginning and the punctuation stays inside the quotes.

“I am so tired of this, Susan,” Jim said. “You can never seem to get that through your head.” – The identifier breaks up the quoted statements into two complete sentences. The first part ends with a comma, inside the quotes, and the identifier ends with a period. The statement continues with the next sentence, open with quotes, captialized as normal, and ending with proper punctuation inside the quotes.

“What did,” she paused as she chanted, “you think, I would say at this moment?” – I had to cheat with this one a little. I broke the statement where the character paused, adding a comma and closing the quote, then the identifier, again only capitalized if the noun is proper, and ended the identifier with a comma before opening the quote again. Because the statement was broken up, no capitalization occurs (unless the noun is proper – hence the cheating. If you know the song, you know where the pause belongs). The statement ends with the correct punctuation inside the quotes.

“You know,” Jim said and sighed heavily. He really hated when Susan did this, “that I cannot resist that song.” – This is a variation of the above, but I thought it was very important to do. Again, the identifer breaks up a sentence in the middle, so commas are used. The identifier is accompanied by exposition before the quoted sentence continues, however. So when I first pause the quote, I use a comma. I end the sentence “Jim said and sighed heavily” with a period. I start the next sentence as usual. Since the quote will pick up from there, I end it with a comma (it is appropriate since it signals the reader that the broken sentence is about to continue) and then open the quote again to finish the sentence. Upon opening the quote again, I only capitalize if the noun is proper and end with correct punctuation. 

This is just talking about quotation marks and how they are consistently misused. Other things happen as well. While yes, it is an editor’s job to correct mistakes, a good editor should also point out to you when you are making consistent mistakes so that you stop making them. Which is the purpose of this.

I am letting you know something I see a lot of writers do, as you may be one of them.

I’m sure I will share other gems.

Until then, good writing everyone.


For more on using Quotation Marks properly, visit Owl. I recommend saving this as a resource. It is free and offers you just about everything that you need to look up when it comes to grammar. You can find other resources as well, so overall, it is a great tool.


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