I'm writing my doctoral dissertation here in the United States, and quoting some text from an English-language paper written in Germany. In Germany, the convention for writing numbers is to use a comma as the decimal separator (3,5 meters), but in the United States, the convention is to use a period as the decimal separator (3.5 meters).

Is it appropriate to reformat the numbers to the American convention when I quote this paper, or is it more appropriate to leave it as-is?

  • interesting question - I look forward to seeing answers, although I suspect we're mostly going to say "ask your academic advisor".
    – Kate S.
    Commented May 10, 2011 at 10:32
  • Though some of the answers suggest prefaces or footnotes explaining a lack of localization, I really only have one or two sentences that I'm quoting like this, so a lengthy explanation is not appropriate.
    – Ken Bloom
    Commented May 10, 2011 at 17:38
  • 1
    Are you translating the German into English?
    – Robusto
    Commented May 11, 2011 at 1:51
  • @Robusto: The original paper is written in English, but uses the German convention for decimals, so I'm not translating the language at all -- just asking about the decimals.
    – Ken Bloom
    Commented May 11, 2011 at 1:56

5 Answers 5


In academic writing, following style guides is particularly important for citations and notes.

Are you editing to APA style or another style guide? I'd absolutely check that first and do as the style guide instructs.

Your department may also have a style guide for you to follow. (I don't have a copy of APA or I'd check.)

Barring any such guidance: If you're quoting verbatim, I would leave the quotes as-is, keeping it clear that the quoted material's source clear, unless it causes confusion. If this happens more than once, you can leave a note explaining the difference if you feel it's needed. If you're paraphrasing, use the U.S. convention.

Disclaimer: I've not worked on academic papers, and don't know APA well, so get another opinion on that last part.


I've been thinking about it, and I think if you're only doing this a couple times, I'd recommend that you just not quote the original directly. It's a total cheat, and if you can find a better answer, I'd love to hear it, but...

Instead of:

German researchers found that only "3,5 percent of the world's population knew how to quote these numbers correctly". (Schmidt 74)

I'd say:

German researchers found that 3.5 percent of people world-wide knew the correct format for translating numerical quotations. (Schmidt 74)

I know there are times when direct quotations are absolutely necessary, but hopefully this isn't one of them?


As it says above generally you should stick to the style guide you have been given. If this gives no guidelines then seek clarification from your evaluator, mentor, tutor etc.

If they have no idea then maybe you could suggest a popular method of substituting your own words into a quotation, the use of square brackets e.g.

"Because of his internal conflict, his sanity is questioned." ~A.Quote


"Because of [Hamlet's] internal conflict, his sanity is questioned." ~A.Quote

In your example:

3,5 meters ~original

is substituted with:

[3.5] meters ~altered to increase context and clear cultural confusion.

  • 1
    I thought about the square bracket approach when I read the question, but I'm not sure I like it. Putting square brackets around numbers might confuse me, as a reader - I would wonder what the original was, and whether the writer had changed something more than just the syntax...
    – Kate S.
    Commented May 10, 2011 at 10:25
  • You could add a preface or foreword explaining that figures in quotes that had been converted for internationalisation purposes are square-bracketed but that only the domestic French/Italian/Malaysian number representation had been altered.
    – One Monkey
    Commented May 10, 2011 at 10:57

If the original paper is in English but uses the German convention for decimals, and you are going to hold to that convention in the quoted material, I would put a footnote by the first use to explain you are doing so, then simply quote as is.

Alternatively, if the dissertation is for an English audience and you feel uncomfortable using the German numerical conventions, convert them and footnote the first usage explaining that to your audience. Either way you've covered the bases. You could also preface your first quote with the explanation, or explain your decision in a foreword. One explanation is enough, however. The quotations will get tedious if you call out each usage.

Whatever you do, it would be a good idea to run the idea by your advisor.


How about adding [sic], meaning "intentionally so written," to indicate that you are quoting something which is written "incorrectly"?

"3,5 meters [sic]"

  • sic is used to indicate that the quote is unaltered so you would in fact write "3,5 meters[sic]". It's to indicate that misspellings and so forth are part of the unaltered text.
    – One Monkey
    Commented May 10, 2011 at 15:23
  • sorry, you're right; I confused the locations of the source (Europe) and the writing (U.S.). I will amend. Commented May 11, 2011 at 12:16
  • Just adding "[sic]" may not be helpful in this case. As you correctly state, "[sic]" is used to indicate that you are quoting directly, including something that may strike the reader as misspelt. But in this case, it goes further than that, as the meaning can become ambiguous: Think about a number like "3,519 meters". Without "[sic]", the reader may be thinking "Based on the context, the meaning is ambiguous." With "[sic]", you're indicating it was written like that in the source, but you're doing nothing to clarify the intended meaning. Commented Jan 18, 2020 at 23:27

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