Do Not Get Caught Un-Quote

Do you remember the eighth commandment? Do not steal. Everybody knows that, and yet: sometimes we get caught off-guard, and even with the best intentions, we end up hearing the worst word a writer could ever hear: plagiarism.

Citing your resources is incredibly easy, and in this article we are going to help you out. It is extremely important to mention the sources you were using when doing your research or who inspired you, especially if you are writing nonfiction (you don’t want to be sued for plagiarism, do you?). The article is roughly based on my favorite publication ever, Chicago Manual of Style , and the extremely useful The Punctuation Guide . Please note that the traditions differ by country (US English vs UK English) and all big publishers have their taste in referencing. When in doubt, please don’t question your editor.

Mentioning others’ works

Underline, italics or quotation marks

When mentioning someone’s work in your text, you should ask the following question: is this the title of a standalone work? If the answer is yes, use italics: for movies, series, books, websites.

correct: I was reading The Jungle Book, when my brother came in.

incorrect: I was reading ‘The Jungle Book’, when my brother came in.

Underlining works just like italics, but is not being used any more: if you remember writing by hand or using a typewriter, there was no option for italics or any other method of emphasizing, for that matter. Underlining was always just a workaround for the shortcomings of the typewriters and today it is generally considered to be outdated.

If you are talking about an episode of a series, a chapter of a book, a poem, an article in a magazine, use quotation marks.

correct: I was reading ‘The Raven’, when my sister came in.

incorrect: I was reading The Raven, when my sister came in.

These rules above are straightforward enough for there to be a trick. If you are talking about a series of books, for example A Song of Ice and Fire, you can keep the individual titles of each books italicized when mentioning them. If you were to bind all the books together, though, into a giant special edition, you would have to write about the books in quotation marks:

correct: I wanted to take A Song of Ice and Fire off the shelf to read ‘A Game of Thrones’, but it was too heavy.

Right use of punctuation and quotation marks

This is the dodgy area of punctuation, where British and American standards differ. The following examples show tiny differences you probably wouldn’t even notice, but a skilled editor picks up on them easily.

One of these important differences is the use of a typesetters’ quote: according to the legend, commas and periods tended to break when placed outside the quotation mark, and typesetters decided to put them inside the quotation to save them. While Americans still follow this tradition (although traditional printers are not in use any more), in Britain writers and editors decided to put them wherever they are logical: inside the quotation marks if belonging to the quote, and outside, if not.

An other difference is that single quotation marks are more popular in Britain than in the US; but don’t forget that it is always the publisher deciding which standards to follow.

1. I was reading ‘The Raven’, when my sister came in.1. I was reading “The Raven,” when my sister came in.
2. One of Poe’s most famous poems is ‘The Raven’.2. One of Poe’s most famous poems is “The Raven.”
BUT: 3. Have you read ‘The Raven’?BUT: 3. Have you read “The Raven”?
4. Mr, Mrs, Ms4. Mr., Mrs., Ms.
5. 1960s5. 1960’s
6. ‘I was reading “The Raven”, when my sister came in’, Julian said.6. “I was reading ‘The Raven,’ when my sister came in,” Julian said.

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