Quotation Marks In E-books Are Fly-Specks On A Page

Using Quotation Marks

The grammar purists will have heart failure regarding this.

But have you given any thought as to which style of quotation marks are best to use when publishing an e-book?

Or, to even use them at all?

Double quotation marks, curly quotes or 66-99 quotes as they are sometimes called, have always been the standard.

In traditional book publishing and printing, and the use of styled typography helped reduce the size and impact of this type of punctuation on a printed page.

In e-books, however, there is no such fine control. Double quotation marks can often appear heavy and a little too bold, depending on what font and size you select on any given reading device.

While many readers will accept this as perfectly normal, there is the option to use single quotation marks. I find them much more pleasant on the eye when reading on a Kindle or iPad.

Compare these four example phrases in 14 point text, which is a very common text size used by e-reading devices in both serif and sans-serif fonts.

I have chosen Times New Roman and Arial as they are the most common fonts in use on e-reading devices.

Also, notice how the form of the quotation marks changes between these two fonts.

Note how the form of the quotation marks changes between these two fonts.

Sample quotation marks

It may not seem like a big deal.

But aesthetically, I have to admit that I prefer single curly quotes when reading on my Kindle or iPad.

Straight quotes are, of course, an option, but they do look more like they belong in a technical manual.

However, I find them all quite ugly, but that is simply my personal opinion.

The main point to understand is that depending on the font selected by a reader on any given device, quotation marks can and do change dramatically, so it is worth considering this point before publishing an e-book?

“I like commas. I detest semi-colons – I don’t think they belong in a story. And I gave up quotation marks long ago. I found I didn’t need them. They were fly-specks on the page.” E. L. Doctorow.

As per Doctorow, there is a radical approach. Do not use quotation marks at all. Get rid of them.

I recently read Cloudstreet by Tim Winton and was a little surprised to discover that there was not a single quotation mark around dialogue in the book.

But, after a few pages, it seemed natural and easy to read.

After all, isn’t a reporting verb enough? He said, she said, is all it needs. It’s obviously dialogue, so why use ugly fly specks?

The Millions has a good article on The Benefits of Excising Quotation Marks, which makes for informative reading.

So what do you think?

Should we eradicate these flyspecks on a page that serves no purpose, other than that readers expect to see them?

Derek Haines

A Cambridge CELTA English teacher and author with a passion for writing and all forms of publishing. My days are spent teaching English and writing, as well as testing and taming new technology.

5 thoughts on “Quotation Marks In E-books Are Fly-Specks On A Page

  • May 31, 2020 at 1:20 pm

    I did try using single quotation marks but then, when it came to thoughts, I had to use double ones or italics. I know most modern novels have single marks and some fonts have straight ones. I don’t think it matters as long as dialogue is obvious. I wouldn’t like to read a book with none alt all.

  • November 7, 2019 at 4:14 am

    And dealing with a quote within a quote – how would that go? And are you talking only about dialog or all use of quotes? I think omitting quotes makes for more difficult writing, more challenge with text to ensure the reader understands WTF is being conveyed. After all, you’ve tossed out a useful tool. On the other hand, more challenging writing usually makes for more interesting reading. Certainly the case with Doctorow.

  • October 19, 2019 at 6:29 am

    I like quotations. In fact, I like the traditional double quotation marks. For one thing, when skimming a reading with a lot of quoted dialogue, the quotation marks assist a reader in skipping to the next segment of dialogue.

  • May 30, 2018 at 9:41 pm

    Formatting is an important point for e-books, since the reading medium will change – phone, pc, tablet, watch… But I’ll go to the wall for punctuation. As a proofreader, it genuinely hurts to see these things unused. If you have a reason for it, ok, roll the dice, but for my money, it decreases understanding.

  • May 27, 2018 at 12:17 pm

    Being “rich in years” (say no more…) I, of course, used double quotation marks years ago, all very proper. Just like I avoided And and But to start a sentence…I also used the Oxford comma (‘what”s that?’,.. many would now say…) .But fashions, phrases, punctuation and words change, Many writers now use single quotation marks in dialogue, and I’ve noticed a few authors started using dialogue typed in italics with no quotation marks at all. I tried it and really enjoyed leaving the heavy double quotation marks behind….As long as the content itself is crystal clear and indented when necessary, I couldn’t see a problem with it. And it was quicker to type…. Ask many famous authors about perfect writing rules, and they’ll likely say: ‘There are no rules…’ Story, plot, characterisation and clarity in the text is vital, but it’s natural that different writers will have different approaches and hurray for that!


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