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I am working on a formal essay where I have to quote a few American English speakers, but my essay is written in British English. Should I change terms like color to colour?

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    Hi gen! Welcome to Writing.SE! Take a look at our tour and help center pages, they're really helpful. And, good question. – Galastel supports GoFundMonica Jul 30 at 8:40
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    Are you quoting things they wrote, or transcripts of things they said aloud? – Ray Jul 30 at 18:12
  • I actually have to do both, @Ray – gen Jul 30 at 22:22
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Usually no. When quoting, it is assumed that you are using the original writer's dialect and spelling, since that is a part of what they wrote. The style guides I consulted agree on that point.

APA has a blog post confirming that spelling standards pertain only to your own manuscript, not quoted material:

The Publication Manual’s spelling guidelines apply only to the original writing in your paper.

For references, keep the spelling in titles and other elements exactly as they appeared in the original. That is, cite what you see.

...

Likewise, if you quote from the text, keep the original spellings. There’s no need to use [sic], as these are not errors.

MLA suggests that quotes should not be changed unless absolutely necessary, which I would extend to differences in dialect. This is from 1.3.1: Use and Accuracy of Quotations in MLA 8:

The accuracy of quotations is crucial. They must reproduce the original source exactly. Unless indicated in square brackets or parentheses, changes must not be made in the spelling, capitalization, or interior punctuation of the source.

A few pages later, in 1.3.7, an example of keeping punctuation is annotated with "Preserving original spelling see sec. 1.3.1," with an example of keeping a British English spelling:

"How can I describe my emotions at this catastrophe, or how delineate the wretch whom with such infinite pains and care I had endeavoured to form?" wonders Victor Frankenstein in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (42)." (First italics highlight what was annotated.)

MLA is written for American writers, but the general principle should be true for you: keep the spelling as quoted unless your style guide tells you differently.

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    What if the words were spoken instead of written, or spoken and then written down by a third party? – Arcanist Lupus Jul 30 at 18:26
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    Good question! If oral remarks were written and I were using that copy, then I should use their spelling and cite them appropriately as an indirect source (3.4 in MLA). That's no different than any other written source. However, if the comments were spoken and I were transcribing them, I would defer to the style guide (if it had a preferred spelling) or my own spelling. If it were important to mark dialect in spelling, I would make a note explaining the change. When in doubt, explain. – TaliesinMerlin Jul 30 at 18:59
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You could use [sic] in the quote, this identifies that the mistake is intentional. For example

I don't like that color [sic].

A more detailed explanation can be found at https://data.grammarbook.com/blog/definitions/sic/

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    Welcome to Writing.SE, Lewis! Take a look at our tour and help center pages, they're useful. With regards to your answer, question is - is it truly a mistake? Should it be treated as a mistake? – Galastel supports GoFundMonica Jul 30 at 8:38
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    The different spelling is clearly not a mistake--it is the correct spelling in a different dialect to the one you are using. However, you could still use [sic] to show you are copying the spelling of the source, even though you would have used a different spelling yourself. – sesquipedalias Jul 30 at 9:18
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    @sesquipedalias I think that would be a stretch to use [sic] for regional spelling differences, and many readers would interpret it as the author (smugly) asserting that American spellings are incorrect. I also don't think many readers will going to be confused by well-known spelling differences popping up in quoted text, so there's not much of a need to call attention to it. – Justin Lardinois Jul 30 at 21:59
  • @Justin Lardinois yeah, fair enough... using [sic] in this situation only makes sense if you're somewhat paranoid... but maybe you're somewhat paranoid... – sesquipedalias Jul 31 at 21:41
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    [sic] is for if you're quoting something where there was an actual mistake in the source. Using a different dialect than you isn't a mistake, so [sic] is really not appropriate here. – reirab Jul 31 at 22:44

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