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Quotation marks for speech

Do you remember learning about talking marks at school? I remember thinking of them as commas up in the sky:)

Over time, I learnt they are called quotation marks and that there are a few simple rules associated with their use. One of the rules about quotation marks is that you don’t close them until the person finishes speaking.

It isn’t often I come across examples of this in business writing – it’s generally more relevant for fiction or story writing. However, I did come across a media release recently which completely ignored this rule (and a few others but that’s a different story altogether!)

How do we use this rule? I’m glad you asked!

John said ‘It is hot today.’

John has finished speaking so we close off the quotation marks – easy.

John said ‘It is hot today and I would like to go the pool for a swim. The pool is just around the corner.

‘I wonder if Mary and Susan would like to come too? I will call them before I leave.’

In this example, John’s speech is divided into two paragraphs but he hadn’t finished speaking so I didn’t close the quotation marks. For clarity, however, I opened them again to show he is still talking (and I hadn’t just forgotten to close them!)

However, if John’s talking was interupted  by text, we would close the quotation marks:

 ‘It is hot today and I would like to go the pool for a swim. The pool is just around the corner,’ said John.

‘I wonder if Mary and Susan would like to come too? I will call them before I leave.’

Short and sweet

Do you remember writing essays at school where you had to make up content to fill the required word count? Do you prefer to read a long book over a short one?

In business and website writing, the clichés ‘short and sweet’ and ‘less is best’ are better options than writing a lot for the sake of writing.

Why keep text short?

Lots of pages are flicked not read

Long documents intimidate

  • people are busy and want to get the information fast
  • it tends to be clearer and simpler
  • it looks less intimidating so more inviting to read
  • it is easier and quicker to proof read!

Keeping it short means short words, short sentences, short paragraphs and short result.

So ‘about’ instead of ‘in respect of’; ‘Accountants advise businesses’ rather than ‘business get advice and recommendations from people experienced with accounting’; and ‘stocktake sale’ rather than ‘reduced prices at the end of season to reduce our stock levels’.

Of course, short in the extreme is not the answer either. I use the idea of ‘if it can be done with fewer words, then do it’ rather than making everything short.

When keeping text short, remember

  • it must make sense
  • all critical information must be included
  • keep it easy to read and suited to your audience (for example, ‘because’ is actually longer than ‘due to’ but is used more commonly in speech so is often the better choice)
  • avoid jargon your readers won’t know