Wednesday, August 20, 2008

" and ' straight or curly?

"Does the legal writing community have a preference for straight or curly quotation marks? Is there a rule about it?" one of our readers asks. He wants to use one format; his firm prefers the other.

Of course, how quotation marks actually look in a document is also a question of font choice. The blog Frivolous Motion prefers smart quotes, as shown by this image that compares the looks of each in various fonts:





Wikipedia has a surprisingly lengthy entry on the topic in "Quotation Mark Glyphs," including this bit of historic trivia:

“Ambidextrous” quotation marks were introduced on typewriters to reduce the number of keys on the keyboard, and were inherited by computer keyboards and character sets. However, modern word processors have started to convert text to use curved quotes.

Monotype Imaging's webpage,, refers to the use of straight quotation marks as an "irritating typographic faux pas" and describes how to toggle on or off the "smart quotes" option on today's word processing software.

A British blog on typography and fonts, The Ministry of Type, analyzes the pros and cons of each style, concluding that

[i]f straight quotes, however much of a modern bastardisation of type they may seem, enhance the meaning of a piece (or if curved quotes would distract the reader), then you must use them. Otherwise, don’t.

I know of no consensus on the format of quotation marks and apostrophes in the legal writing community, but rather have always experienced the issue (and largely in my role as a journal editor) as a question of style and consistency, and perhaps, aesthetics. Ken Adams has written about the choice in his blog on drafting. More than anything, Adams counsels consistency in style; anything else looks messy.


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The principal disadvantage of smart quotes, is that it is possible to use the wrong directional quoation mark in the wrong place, usually as a result of the editing process. When documents are prepared under time pressure, this is an easy point to miss in a quick proof read, but it often looks like glaring carelessness to a reader who tackles the document at a more pedestrian pace.

Posted by: ohwilleke | Aug 21, 2008 9:57:38 AM

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