Quotations and Dialogue

Q. When is it appropriate to use quotation marks to set off a term that is being defined or described in academic writing? I edit casebooks and journal articles for law professors, and authors will often write sentences such as:

It will be helpful first to explore the meaning of the concepts of “public health” and the “common good.”

I find quotation marks unnecessary unless they are used to set off words coined by the author or if their usage is not standard. What do you think?

Q. If I’m making a song title possessive and the song title is plural, what would I do? For example, would I write . . .

“Wild Horses” ’ bass line is so dang good.

“Wild Horses’ ” bass line is so dang good.


“Wild Horses” ’s bass line is so dang good.

You might say that I should write, “The bass line in ‘Wild Horses’ is so dang good,” but let’s pretend I’m constrained by a website field character limit that won’t let me add the two extra words to rephrase it like that.

Q. I am copyediting a historic work which includes quite a number of implied quotes, such as the following, where no quotation marks have been used: As Robert Choquette says, the wide range of theological tenets within Protestantism makes too much generalization about the feelings and reactions of clergy dangerous. I realize there are situations where quotation marks are not required, such as: Jane asked him to come to dinner but he said he had another commitment, but “As Robert Choquette says” certainly reads as though a direct quote should follow. Am I being too paranoid or pedantic? I would much appreciate your advice on this.

Q. When quoting from a book and using the four-dot method of ellipsis, can one arrange the order of sentences differently from how they appear in the book? Could one, for example—in an attempt to give a concise, overall impression of the author’s thinking—begin with a quote from chapter 10, then from chapter 4, and finally from chapter 1? A colleague and I have both looked in the manual and couldn’t find anything.

Q. I am editing a manuscript in which the author loves to use quotation marks around special expressions that are not to be taken literally. Eliminating them is not an option. The problem I am having is that at the end of a quotation that ends a sentence he often uses ellipsis. Here is an actual example: It might be illuminating to pursue the relationship between Goffmanian and Christian usages of stigma and stigmatization in the context of guilty knowledge, confession, healing, guilt, forgiveness, and “the marked man/woman.” . . . (The ellipsis is his.) What do you think?

Q. I’m editing a manuscript in which the author wants to add emphasis to a lengthy quotation. The original already has several phrases in italics. Is there a proper and/or elegant way to add emphasis to an already emphasized passage without confusing the reader?

Q. I am editing a manuscript that uses quotations from British texts. Can I silently change British spellings (such as “colour”) into American spellings in quotations?

Q. I am in the awkward situation of trying to cite an excerpted book review that appears on the dust jacket of an updated edition of said monograph. While it seems technically correct to cite the name of the reviewer, the book being reviewed and its author, the title of the original source of the review, “quoted in” Book Being Reviewed, 2d ed. (publication information), jacket; this also strikes me as convoluted and vaguely ridiculous. Finding the source of the original review would provide a way out, I know, but I’d rather not sift through several months worth of copies of the Daily Telegraph (c. 1965).

Q. I’m in the process of editing a nonfiction book about a murder trial that took place in Green Bay, Wisconsin, in 1983. I need to know whether courtroom testimony that the author quotes from the public record—and has set inside quotation marks—must be reproduced precisely as it was transcribed in the courtroom (except for elisions and paraphrases of testimony not set in quotes).

Q. Microsoft Word just suggested I change “What do you mean ‘unfortunately?’ ” to “What do you mean ‘unfortunately’?” Should I tell Word to leave me alone, or am I mistaken in believing that, in American English, quotation marks envelop all neighboring punctuation?