Quotations and Dialogue

Q. Can you clarify when a comma should be used before a quote, especially following the word read or said? For example, “Newspaper headlines read, ‘People Are Angry’ and ‘Crime Abounds’” versus “Newspaper headlines read ‘People Are Angry’ and ‘Crime Abounds.’”

A. The use of a comma to introduce a quotation is generally a matter of tradition rather than strict logic. That is, it is optional grammatically, but in most contexts readers expect it to follow said and various other dialogue tags. A comma indicates that the quoted material is seen as syntactically independent from the surrounding text. A quote that is seen more clearly as the direct object of a speaking verb, however, does not need a comma: He wrote “Yes” in large letters.