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Everyone who has looked closely at a document that has been set digitally, whether online or in print, has come across instances of inconsistencies in how quotation marks, apostrophes and primes* are used. For wordsandwork, this is a problem that comes up more often than we would like as we believe that, in line with the need to set good text, the use of proper characters is essential. A message communicates best when it is an integral part of good design. Otherwise, it’s just shabby.

So, let’s get started. Regularly, when a text document is imported from one programme to another, certain characters are corrupted. Quotation marks (aka double quotes) corrupt to typewriter quotes (aka dumb’ or straight’ quotes). As if this weren’t bad enough, sometimes double quotes end up corrupting to single quotes—adding insult to injury when a great deal of trouble has been taken to arrive at clean text from an editorial and design perspective.

Sometimes—more often than you might expect—quotation marks have corrupted even further and are oriented in the wrong way. For example, the quotation mark that should be at the end of a passage of text might re-appear at the beginning of a sentence.

In most cases, the only way to ensure that otherwise properly set text is not full of junk typewriter default characters for both double and single quotation marks is to find each incorrect character and return it to its, correct, “curly” font manually.

Below is the best and some of the worst instances of this sort of thing happening. The first is correct; the other four examples show incorrectly positioned quotation marks or marks that have defaulted to a typewriter/dumb/straight font instead of the curly font — that is, the character designed within the correct font library:

“The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.”

'The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.'

”The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.’

The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog."

"The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog."

The distinction between a correctly set double or single quotation mark and the same marks defaulting to either typewriter/dumb/straight or prime characters is as important as all of the other aspects of setting text. As well as accuracy, this is also about good design and communication.

We’ll be returning to the proper use of double and single quotation marks in a forthcoming blog post.


*Primes = characters specially designed to indicate inches and feet. The differences between the design of primes and double and single quotation marks across different fonts can be more or less visible. In a curly font like Baskerville (the font we’re using here), the differences are more obvious than in, say, a font like Verdana (the sans serif font on our site). Some fonts will not even contain a separate character for this use and will simply use the double and single quotation marks as primes.


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