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Monday, July 21, 2008

Properly Punctuating Quotes in Your Transcripts

Whether you're transcribing single-speaker monologues, multi-speaker focus groups or anything in between, chances are you've come across speakers quoting other people as they tell stories.

Transcribing quotations brings about two issues. The obvious issue is properly punctuating these quotes, and we'll address that below. However, the other issue that we face as transcriptionists is trying to determine when people switch from quoting someone else to speaking for themselves. While this is always clear in written language, it is not always as clear in verbal communication because speakers will often switch back and forth between a quote and their own voice without a clear indication of which they are using. In these situations, all we can do is use our judgment to determine where exactly the transition is made. I'll be sharing my method for punctuating these sentences in a separate post, as well as using quotes around words or phrases for emphasis, but for now, let's take a look at the basics of punctuating quotes.

First, let’s take a look at the opening of the quotation. In almost all cases, you will set the introductory phrase apart from the quote itself with a comma or, occasionally, a colon:

When she finally finished her file, she said, “Working at home isn’t as easy as I thought it would be.”

Ending the quotation is a little more complicated, but the rules are pretty easy to follow. Periods and commas always go inside the quotation marks. I don’t like this rule and think that they should sometimes be used outside, as in British English, but the rule for American English is clear that they should always be on the inside.

Question marks and exclamation points can go inside or outside of the quotation marks depending on the context of the sentence. If the quote itself is a question/exclamation, then the punctuation goes inside the quotation marks:

She wrote the sentence and then asked, “Is this how you would do it?”

If, however, the statement surrounding the quote is the question/exclamation, then the punctuation should go outside of quotation marks:

What were you thinking when she said, “Transcription is a great opportunity for work-at-home moms”?

Finally, if the statement and the quotation are BOTH questions/exclamations, the punctuation still goes inside of the quotation marks:

What did you say when she asked, “Do you have much free time during the day?”

You can review the rest of our grammar posts here, and please let us know if there's a specific area you think we should address!


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