Using Quotation Marks

Do we even need quotation marks?

The grammar purists will have heart failure regarding this of course, but have you given any thought as to which style of quotation marks are best to use when publishing an e-book?

Or, to even use them at all?

Double quotation marks, curly quotes or 66-99 quotes as they are sometimes called, have always been the standard. In traditional book publishing and printing, and the use of styled typography helped reduce the size and impact of this type of punctuation on a printed page.

In e-books, however, there is no such fine control, so double quotation marks can often appear heavy and a little too bold, depending on what font and size are selected on any given reading device.

While many readers will accept this as perfectly normal, there is the option to use single quotation marks, which I find much more pleasant on the eye when reading on a Kindle or iPad.

Compare these four example phrases in 14 point text, which is a very common text size used by e-reading devices in both serif and sans serif fonts.

I have chosen Times New Roman and Arial as they are the most common fonts in use on e-reading devices. Also, notice how the form of the quotation marks changes between these two fonts.

Note how the form of the quotation marks changes between these two fonts.

Sample quotation marks

It may not seem like a big deal, but aesthetically I have to admit that I prefer single curly quotes when reading on my Kindle or iPad. Straight quotes are of course an option, but they do look more like they belong in a technical manual.

However, I find them all quite ugly, but that is simply my personal opinion.

The main point to understand is that depending on the font selected by a reader on any given device, quotation marks can and do change dramatically, so it is worth considering this point before publishing an e-book?

“I like commas. I detest semi-colons – I don’t think they belong in a story. And I gave up quotation marks long ago. I found I didn’t need them, they were fly-specks on the page.” E. L. Doctorow.

As per Doctorow, there is the radical approach. Do not use quotation marks at all. Get rid of them!

I recently read Cloud Street by Tim Winton and was a little surprised to discover that there was not a quotation mark to be found in the book.

But, after a few pages, it seemed natural and easy to read. After all, isn’t a reporting verb enough? He said, she said, is all one needs. It’s clearly dialogue, so why use ugly fly specks?

The Millions have a good article on The Benefits of Excising Quotation Marks, which makes for informative reading.

So what do you think? Should we eradicate these fly specks on a page that serve no purpose, other than that readers expect them?

This page was last updated on September 6th, 2017

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