Technical Writing Tip: Punctuating Quotation Marks

November 23, 2022 Breanne MacDonald

Many people are familiar with using quotation marks, whether for dialog, quoted material, or setting off a word or phrase within a sentence. But as a technical editor, a question I’m frequently asked is “Does the <insert punctuation mark here> go inside or outside the quotation marks?” So, let’s tackle that in this blog post.

As with many things in the English language, the answer to this question can depend on which style guide you are using and who you’re writing for. Conventions can differ, so be sure to become familiar with the ones that are applicable to you. This blog will be looking at American conventions (British or Canadian conventions may vary).

Though not frequently used in technical writing, when working with quotation marks to set off dialog, the closing punctuation always goes inside the quotation mark. In other situations, the rules can vary depending on which punctuation mark you are using.

Period and Commas

When you have text that is set off with quotation marks and needs a period or a comma, place the mark inside the quotation marks. (This convention is often reversed in the UK, where they prefer the period or comma to go outside the quotation marks.)

The Percent of Success column reads “Not Pertinent.”

The report displays for the “datum label capital letter,” as shown in Figure 4–49.

Semicolons and Colons

If you have a semicolon or colon at the end of your text, it should always go outside of the quotation marks.

Several lifecycle definitions are included “out-of-the-box”; this assists administrators in assigning definitions to Vault content without having to create them.

Question Marks and Exclamation Marks

With question marks and exclamation marks, the placement will vary depending on the context of the sentence.

If the question or exclamation mark applies only to the quoted text, it should be placed inside the quotation marks.

If you close the file before saving, you are prompted with the message "Do you want to save changes?"

It’s important to note that the sentence does not need an additional terminal punctuation mark. In the above example, even though the question mark is placed inside the quotation mark, you do not need to add a period to the sentence. Sentences never need more than one terminal punctuation mark.

If the question or exclamation mark applies to the entire sentence (and not specifically to the quoted material), it should be placed outside of the quotation marks.

Does Vault provide lifecycle definitions “out-of-the-box”?

I hope you found this quick summary helpful and can apply it to your own writing!

About the Author

Breanne MacDonald

Technical Editor<br><br>Fueled by her meticulous nature, an eye for detail, and a love of books, Breanne has been an editor for over 10 years. She has been a technical editor with ASCENT since 2019, and outside the office she is an avid volunteer with the Editors’ Association of Canada. Breanne holds a Bachelor of Arts from Wilfrid Laurier University and a certificate in publishing from Ryerson University.

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