Quotations and Dialogue

Q. I teach my students to keep the capitalization used in the original text when quoting in a paper or to indicate with brackets when the original text has been changed. I also tell them to alter the original casing to mesh into their sentences. However, examples in some English grammar books maintain the capitalization on poetry, even when meshing into a writer’s sentence, e.g., “Frost writes of the separation of ‘Two roads.’ ” Is this correct, or should it be “the separation of ‘[t]wo roads’ ”?

A. Both methods are common. If readers see that capitalization does not mesh with the syntax of a sentence, or that brackets are used, they have a clue as to the original casing. If the casing happens to mesh, the reader has no way to know whether it’s been edited. If you’re preparing a paper where the issue is important (literary, linguistic, or legal), you should explain your system in a note or preface. In most documents, however, overattention to such matters merely bogs down the reader, and it’s normal practice to quietly change the casing to fit one’s own syntax.