3 Common Mistakes When Presenting Quotations
Reproducing the precise wording of a saying or the exact words someone has said or someone might say requires adherence to a simple set of rules of punctuation and capitalization, as described and demonstrated in the discussions following each of the examples provided below.
1. The old saying, “What gets rewarded gets done,” is applicable to any business process.
Setting off a saying, or a question or any other type of quotation, with commas marks the quoted material as the only specimen of that type of thing. Because this is not an attributed direct quotation, it should be presented with nonrestrictive construction, indicating that it is merely one of multiple possible sayings: “The old saying ‘What gets rewarded gets done’ is applicable to any business process.”
2. Demonstrators chanted “release the tape” and “we want the tape” as they marched down the street.
An attribution (an identification of one or more speakers) must be followed by—or preceded by—a comma (in the former case, a colon is sometimes used instead), and the first word of a full quotation should be capitalized: “Demonstrators chanted, ‘Release the tape!’ and ‘We want the tape!’ as they marched down the street.” (Notice, too, that exclamation points have been inserted at the end of each quotation to indicate that the speakers raised the volume of their voices above the normal range.)
3. When you tell young people to turn off the phone, they hear please cut off your left arm above the elbow.
When describing at a distance of time and/or space what a person or people say or would conceivably say, treat the statement as an actual quotation: “When you tell young people to turn off the phone, they hear, ‘Please cut off your left arm above the elbow.’”
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