When speaking aloud, you punctuate constantly — with body language.
Your listener hears commas, dashes, question marks, exclamation points, quotation marks as you shout, whisper, pause, wave your arms, roll your eyes, wrinkle your brow.
In writing, punctuation plays the role of body language. It helps readers hear the way you want to be heard.
Russell Baker is a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer and columnist who authored the autobiographies Growing Up and The Good Times.
Do you ever wonder what really goes on behind the scenes and on the screens of an editor? How many different webpages and reference materials we use to get your book publication perfect? Hopefully, you’ve seen my previous blog post on What’s on Your Bookshelf – highlighting my go-to reference books.
Piggybacking on that, I thought I would show you part of my Editor’s Toolkit. What is an Editor’s Toolkit you may be asking? It is those websites that help me do my job, and perhaps show you something new and different that you don’t know.
First, on this tour of the Editor’s Toolkit, The Punctuation Guide. I like this web app because it has an easy-to-use interface, and clear guidelines. If you are not a writer, and a student in English class, it will also help you understand how and when to use an em-dash (—), an en-dash (–), or a hyphen (-), for instance.
Primarily for American English (AmE), and not British English (BrE); however, it has a section under “Other Matters” entitled British versus American Style.
Remember… Punctuation Saves Lives.
Know of other useful writing apps that aren’t included here? Let me know about them on Twitter!
Annie Dillard gave a speech at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. This was the advice she thought to give them after she left.
Learn punctuation; it is your little drum set, one of the few tools you have to signal the reader where the beats and emphases go. (If you get it wrong, any least thing, the editor will throw your manuscript out.) Punctuation is not like musical notation; it doesn’t indicate the length of pauses, but instead signifies logical relations. There are all sorts of people out there who know these things very well. You have to be among them even to begin.
Annie Dillard is the author of ten books, including the Pulitzer Prize-winner Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, as well as An American Childhood, The Living, and Mornings Like This. She is a member of the Academy of Arts and Letters and has received fellowship grants from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. Born in 1945 in Pittsburgh, Dillard attended Hollins College in Virginia. After living for five years in the Pacific Northwest, she returned to the East Coast, where she lives with her family.
I wear many hats when I’m editing, including switching between American English (AmE) and British English (BrE), depending on what manuscript I am working on. Did you know that there are different grammatical conventions depending on which side of the pond you are on?
British English prefers the term Inverted Commas when they talk about speech marks or quotation marks. Do you know when to use them, and whether to use single or double?
British English prefers single inverted commas, while American English prefers double.
Ronald B. McKerrow states, “Inverted commas were, until late in the seventeenth century, frequently used at the beginnings of lines to call attention to sententious remarks….They were not especially associated with quotations until the eighteenth century.”
The Oxford Dictionary ruling says,
“There’s no rule about which to use but you should stick to one or the other throughout a piece of writing. Single inverted commas are generally more common in British English while American English tends to prefer double ones.
If you find that you need to enclose quoted material within direct speech or another quotation, use the style you haven’t used already. So, if you’ve been using single inverted commas, put any further quoted material within double ones and vice versa.”
Rules of Quotation Marks / Inverted Commas:
American English vs. British English
American style uses double quotes (“) for initial quotations, then single quotes (‘) for quotations within the initial quotation.
“Economic systems,” according to Professor White, “are an inevitable byproduct of civilization, and are, as John Doe said, ‘with us whether we want them or not.’”
British style uses single quotes (‘) for initial quotations, then double quotes (“) for quotations within the initial quotation.
‘Economic systems’, according to Professor White, ‘are an inevitable byproduct of civilization, and are, as John Doe said, “with us whether we want them or not”’.
The above examples also show that the American style places commas and periods inside the quotation marks, even if they are not in the original material. British style (more sensibly) places unquoted periods and commas outside the quotation marks. For all other punctuation, the British and American styles are in agreement: unless the punctuation is part of the quoted material, it goes outside the quotation marks.
From The Punctuation Guide. This is one of my go-to references, when I am wearing many hats and working in British English.
For Further Reading:
“British versus American style.” The Punctuation Guide. http://www.thepunctuationguide.com/british-versus-american-style.html
Fowler, H.W. “Chapter IV: Punctuation. Quotation Marks.” The King’s English, 2nd edition. 1908. http://www.bartleby.com/116/406.html
Garber, Marjorie. “” ” (quotation Marks)”. Critical Inquiry 25.4 (1999): 653–679.
Heisel, Andrew. “Single Quotes or Double Quotes? It’s Really Quite Simple.” Slate Magazine. October 21, 2014. http://www.slate.com/blogs/lexicon_valley/2014/10/21/single_quotes_or_double_quotes_it_s_really_quite_simple.html