MS WORD for Writers: Pesky Punctuation: Single and Double Quote Marks, and Apostrophes

You wouldn’t think quote marks (single and double) and apostrophes could be pesky. Word users sometimes have problems mainly for two reasons:

  1. Word is an office productivity program rather than just a word processor. Its built-in grammar rules are set up for business writing rather than for fiction. Don’t believe me? Turn on the grammar checker. Follow its advice, Creative Writers, and you’ll sound like a bureaucrat. Their grammatical rules for using quote marks don’t always apply to fiction or creative nonfiction.
  2. Word’s default is the straight quote/apostrophe. No problem while you’re writing and editing. Problems arise when it comes time to turn your writing into an ebook or print edition. Professional publishing requires curly quotes (aka smart quotes) where the left/open mark is a different character than the right/close mark. Apostrophes always look like a right/close mark—even when they are used at the beginning of a word.

My recommendation for the straight vs. curly quote issue is to toggle on AutoFormat so that Word changes straight to curly quotes automatically while you’re typing.

Go to File>Options>Proofing and click AutoCorrect Options… In the menu box that opens, check the box for ‘“Straight quotes” with “smart quotes”’. Click Okay, be sure to click Okay in the main menu. Done. Now whenever you type the single or double quote character it will be a curly quote.

2018-01-19_Word Autocorrect quote marks

What if you’ve been using straight quotes? Or you, like so many do these days, write sections in other programs or devices, and that program uses straight quotes. When you import or paste the text into your Word doc, the straight quotes remain, filling your doc with a mix of straight and curly quotes.

With AutoFormat turned on, transforming straight quotes into curly quotes is very easy using Find and Replace.

For single quotes/apostrophes:

In the Find field: ‘
In the Replace field: ‘
Replace All

For double quotes:

In the Find field: ”
In the Replace field: ”
Replace All

Word will turn all the marks into curly quotes.

Depending on your version of Word, running those operations can create some wrong-way quote marks. Those are fairly easy to find.

For wrong way quotes after a dash (em, en or single) search for:

Em dash:

In the Find field: ^+”

Use Find Next to search for each instance. If the quote mark is turned the wrong way, fix it.

En dash:

In the Find field: ^=”

Use Find Next to search for each instance. If the quote mark is turned the wrong way, fix it.

Single dash/hyphen:

In the Find field: -“

Use Find Next to search for each instance. If the quote mark is turned the wrong way, fix it.

For left/open single quotes instead of an apostrophe in open contractions (’em, ’round, ’60s, etc.) search for:

In the Find field: (space)’
(When I type (space) it means hit the space bar once to create a blank space.)

Use Find Next to search for each instance. If the apostrophe is turned the wrong way, fix it.

British and Australian writers run into a special problem with open contractions. A space+’ looks like a regular open quote for dialogue. It might be easiest to search for the actual words that you’ve contracted—if you can remember what they are. They might turn up in spell check and can be fixed as you find them. There is a search that you can run using wildcards.

In the Find and Replace menu click More to open the full menu. Check the box for “Use wildcards”. You will have to copy and paste a left single quote into the search string.

In the Find field: (space)[‘][a-z]

When you use Find Next, Word will find every left single quote with a space before it and a lower case letter after it. In order to find numbers, such as dates, that have been contracted from, for example, 1960s to ’60s, change the search string to find a range of numbers.

In the Find field: (space)[‘][1-9]

To finish up, doing the following search—

In the Find field: ‘‘ (that’s two single quote marks)

—will root out the remaining wrong way single quote marks that you can fix on a case by case instance.

 

What About Typos?

‘It’s easy to accidentally hit the space bar which not only inserts an unwanted space but also a wrong way quote mark. Like so:

“Now is the time for all good children to line up at the door, said the teacher.

The teacher said, “Come back inside, children.

Basic rules of grammar will help you find those instances. In order to keep the number of search results to a reasonable number and to find only the mistakes, you must copy/paste the left and right quotes into the Find fields. Typing the single or double quote marks into the field will insert straight quotes, and then Word will find so many your eyes will cross. Copying and pasting the correct character is the only way to reasonably search.

To find and fix left/open quote marks that should be right/close marks:

In the Find field: “(space)

Use Find Next to find the typos.

When the typo happens at the end of the paragraph there may or may not be a space after the quote mark. To find those:

In the Find field: “^p

For British and Australian writers, the same general rules apply to single quote marks. Copy/paste the wrong-way turned single quote along with a space.

What About Missing Quote Marks?

I had a writer ask me the other day whether there’s a way in Word to find missing quote marks. Better yet, a way to find and fix missing quote marks automatically. It’s a common typo that’s devilishly difficult to spot while proofreading. Unfortunately, there are so many variables it would be impossible to come up a one-size-fits-all Find and Replace operation.

There is, however, a way to search that will highlight missing quote marks without giving your brain the opportunity to “fill in the blanks with what you meant to do”.

This is a wildcard search that will find every instance of a left/open quote mark closed by right/close quote no matter what or how much text is between them. How does that help find missing quote marks? In the image below you’ll notice there should be a quote mark after “Hey! but the search result goes all the way to the end of the paragraph. If you’re purposefully looking for missing quote marks, you will spot right away that something is amiss. Depending on the size of the doc, this could be a fairly tedious search. The advantage it has over word-by-word, sentence-by-sentence proofreading is that you are looking for and paying attention to just one thing—the missing quote marks.

2018-01-22_Word wildcard missing quoteInsert a search string that exactly matches the string in the image—copy and paste left and right quote marks from the text into the Find field—and check the box for “Use wildcards”. Use Find Next and insert any missing quote marks you find.

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My goal for 2018 is to teach as many writers as possible how to efficiently and expertly use MS Word as a writing and self-publishing tool. Watch this blog-space for more tips, tricks and techniques. Or, if you’d prefer all the information in one package, including step-by-step instructions for formatting ebooks and print-on-demand editions, WORD for the Wise: Using Microsoft Office Word for Creative Writing and Self-publishing is available at Amazon as an ebook and in print.

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