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I'm writing (or at least trying to write) a novel, and using standard manuscript format: 12-point Courier, double-spaced, 1-inch margins, etc. I'm using Google Docs, which automatically converts straight quotation marks (i.e. ' or ") to curly ones (i.e. and or and ). Personally, I like the way this looks, but I know a lot of proper manuscript format is about avoiding fancy typographical stuff (e.g. using two hyphens instead of an em-dash). Is it acceptable to use these curly quotes, or should I switch to straight ones?

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Check the manuscript guidelines of where you're submitting. Anything else is a personal style preference.

Some manuscript guidelines require straight quotes, some ask for curly quotes throughout. In general, short fiction tends to require straight quotes (particularly when submitted in the body of an email, or pasted into a web form) and novels tend to need curly quotes. (The same issues usually apply to apostrophes and em dashes.)

The easiest way to handle this is probably to write with curly quotes turned on. It's a simple matter to use a text editor to turn them into straight quotes; doing it the other way around can be a little more complicated and prone to error.

  • Thanks! I'm a long way away from even thinking about where I'd want to submit, but your suggestion of the easiest way to handle this makes sense. – PinkAmpersand Jun 25 '15 at 19:02
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I know of two widely cited descriptions of standard manuscript format, one from William Shunn and the other from Vonda M. McIntyre.

Neither description explicitly mentions the style of quotation marks. But each description is itself an example of the manuscript format it describes. Shunn's uses straight quotes. I think McIntyre's uses curly quotes (the opening and closing quotation marks differ).

  • The kind of quotes used in those books mighr not be intentional on the part of the authors but a decision the book designer made. If the quotes are not explicitly mentioned I would not draw any conclusions fron the typesetting. – user5645 Jun 25 '15 at 18:51
  • Yeah, those are curly quotes in McIntyre's. Though I suppose "curly" is something of a misnomer in Courier. @what: They're not books, though; they're sample manuscripts. – PinkAmpersand Jun 25 '15 at 19:04
  • @what I'm confident, given that those authors posted their guidelines on their own web sites, that they intended the typography to be exemplary. Confident, but not certain. So I'll ask them. – Dale Hartley Emery Jun 25 '15 at 19:15
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    Vonda replied that she put her article into PDF "because the formatting is preserved in PDF." She also says: (1) the details that matter to the editor are "a good story, style, voice, and a grasp of the tools of your profession: grammar, punctuation, syntax," (2) "look at the market's website for their guidelines and follow them slavishly," and finally (3) "Auntie Vonda's unsolicited advice: Concentrate on the story." – Dale Hartley Emery Jun 25 '15 at 22:14
  • @DaleHartleyEmery Cool, thanks. Vonda speaks from my heart. (I also loved all her books I read.) Maybe you want to incorporate that feedback into your answer? – user5645 Jun 26 '15 at 4:27
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I just finished the design handbook Thinking With Type by Ellen Lupton. In it she says that prime or hatch marks (straight quotes) should only be used to indicate inches and feet (e.g., 5'7"). Always use curly quotes (aka typographer's quotes, or smart quotes) for quotation marks and apostrophes.

In fact, she says the use of straight quotes, for anything other than feet and inches, is a type crime.

Edit: The book also says writer's needn't spend hours worrying about design, they should leave it to the designers.

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    I think Lupton's typography statutes apply to published works, not to manuscripts. – Dale Hartley Emery Jun 25 '15 at 18:23
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    Good point. In fact that reminded me that the book also says writer's needn't spend hours worrying about design, they should leave it to the designers. – Deejay Jun 25 '15 at 18:33
  • There is a reason why it is called a design handbook and not a writer's guide to manuscript formatting. – user5645 Jun 25 '15 at 18:53
  • it may be a type crime! but unfortunately the creators of the ASCII standard either blatant criminals or just didn't much care - ASCII only defines prime or hatch marks and has no knowledge of curly quotes. - Hence if you paste content from word into a web form you'll end up with unknown characters I seem to spend my life reconfiguring word to stop changing them! – Michael B Jun 25 '15 at 19:00
  • Not sure if I should just delete this answer? What's the protocol? – Deejay Jun 25 '15 at 19:01

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