Saturday, August 22, 2009

Good type matters (part 5): quotation marks

Type is the most important blah blah blah ... (see my earlier posts).

Quotation marks.

This is both easy and complicated: use real quotation marks and apostrophes. This matters everywhere, but it really stands out in headlines and other large type. Quotation marks (both single and double) are a matched set, that is they have a front and back (or beginning and end). The things on your keyboard are prime and double prime marks, and they do not come as a set. There are regional variations on use (including using guillemets instead of quotation marks), and positioning differences (for instance, German traditionally uses opening quotes below the baseline instead of at the ascender), but all use different symbols to open and close a quotation.

“thus” (quotation marks, sometimes called curly quotes), not "this" (double prime marks, sometimes called straight quotes)

Ditto for apostrophes.

Adjust your software to use real quotation marks. And please don’t use too many of them (quotation marks “seem” to be “overused” so often there is a great “website” dedicated to their “overuse”).

The easy part is setting Word or PP to use so-called curly quotes. In both programs, Microsoft has cleverly hidden the control under Tools > AutoCorrect > AutoFormat As You Type: check the Straight Quotes with Smart Quotes box.

The complicated part is that many other pieces of software you encounter don’t have such nice features, and so when you type the " or ' characters, that’s what you get. Oh well, c’est la vie. If you’re compulsive, like me, there are ways around this (copying and pasting, using strange key combinations, etc.), but for most people this is probably too much to worry about.

Prime and double prime marks are used as abbreviations for feet and inches (I’m 5'11"), and for minutes and seconds of an arc (60" = 1°). They are also used in math and science. In any of these uses, quotation marks would be incorrect and silly-looking.

No comments:

Post a Comment