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Old 03-09-2019, 10:31 PM   #1
E.M.DuBois
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Writing within writing: Italics vs Quotations

So, I've noticed a tendency in my writing: whenever something is written within my stories, like a note or a sign, I sometimes put them in quotes and sometimes do italics.


I'm pretty sure this is due to ignorance of some English rule I was taught and long-since forgotten. Can anyone inform me what the proper instances are for them, or provide proper learning material (PDFs would be great)? I know things like book titles are italicized while chapters are in quotes, but I can't recall seeing anything about the a note or sign or whatnot.
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Old 03-10-2019, 09:29 AM   #2
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I don't think there is a rule, or not that I've ever found.

I think context is relevant. A character might look up and read a sign that says "blah blah blah". Since the context indicates "says", it seems appropriate to use quotes, but in other circumstances I'm inclined to use italics. Some books, particularly for younger readers, even put very short items always in their own paragraph - see next.

In situations where it is a note or similar, presented as separate paragraphs, then indentation on both sides is fairly common. Or sometimes centring for very short items. The indentation makes any other font change optional. In paper publications such are often presented in special font. You can do the same in ebooks but care is needed. In one of my novels I used a fixed width font indented on both sides to represent the email messages passed back and forth. Be careful though, a little can go a long way with this sort of stuff.
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Old 03-10-2019, 03:40 PM   #3
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The Chicago Manual of Style rule is to use initial caps for short signs in running text. So, e.g., The door was marked Do Not Enter.
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Old 03-13-2019, 12:48 PM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by gmw View Post
I think context is relevant. A character might look up and read a sign that says "blah blah blah". Since the context indicates "says", it seems appropriate to use quotes, but in other circumstances I'm inclined to use italics.

In situations where it is a note or similar, presented as separate paragraphs, then indentation on both sides is fairly common. Or sometimes centring for very short items.
I've used all of that advice, so at least I know I'm on the right track. Now I guess I need to just make sure whatever rules I set for myself, I'm consistent with (aka, my style.)
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Old 03-13-2019, 12:48 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Catlady View Post
The Chicago Manual of Style rule is to use initial caps for short signs in running text. So, e.g., The door was marked Do Not Enter.
That's very helpful!
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Old 03-13-2019, 02:08 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Catlady View Post
The Chicago Manual of Style rule is to use initial caps for short signs in running text. So, e.g., The door was marked Do Not Enter.
My personal preference would be to also use quotation marks. It is, after all, quoted text. I.e. The door was marked "Do Not Enter".
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Old 03-13-2019, 07:53 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by HarryT View Post
My personal preference would be to also use quotation marks. It is, after all, quoted text. I.e. The door was marked "Do Not Enter".
My reading of New Hart's Rules (The Oxford Style Guide) is that they would agree with you. As far as I can tell it has no explicit rule for "short signs in running text", and so the situation would fall back to the base guide about quotations and direct speech ("A direct quotation presents the exact words spoken on a particular occasion or written in a particular place."), although being the Oxford style, that would be 'Do Not Enter' (single-quotation marks). Edit: Being a direct quotation you would not alter the case, however a "Do Not Enter" sign is typically written as such (and so the CMOS may appear to have been applied in many cases where it has not).

However, my experience in fiction is that there is a lot of variation, hence my original post.

Last edited by gmw; 03-13-2019 at 08:03 PM.
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Old 03-14-2019, 12:50 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by HarryT View Post
My personal preference would be to also use quotation marks. It is, after all, quoted text. I.e. The door was marked "Do Not Enter".
LOL, but now I wonder if we really want: The door was marked "Do Not Enter."
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Old 03-14-2019, 02:06 AM   #9
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LOL, but now I wonder if we really want: The door was marked "Do Not Enter."
Good catch. As I understand it, in the US expect the punctuation to fall inside the quote regardless of whether it was part of the original text, in the UK it depends on the style you are following. New Hart's Rules, for example, merely notes the difference exists, noting that the US approach to this is "followed in much modern British fiction and journalism."
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Old 03-14-2019, 03:20 AM   #10
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LOL, but now I wonder if we really want: The door was marked "Do Not Enter."
Only in American English. In Britain English the most common convention is that punctuation only goes inside quotation marks if it's part of what's being quoted.

E.g.

She said "Is it raining?"

But

Did she say "It is raining"?

Last edited by HarryT; 03-14-2019 at 03:53 AM.
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Old 03-14-2019, 07:01 AM   #11
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Just for fun, Harry, I believe this is correct:

Did she say "Is it raining?"


(According to New Hart's Rules: "When the quoted sentence ends with a question mark or exclamation mark, this should be placed within the closing quotation mark, with no other mark outside the quotation mark—only one mark of terminal punctuation is needed")

Last edited by gmw; 03-14-2019 at 07:04 AM.
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Old 03-14-2019, 08:07 AM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by gmw View Post
Just for fun, Harry, I believe this is correct:

Did she say "Is it raining?"


(According to New Hart's Rules: "When the quoted sentence ends with a question mark or exclamation mark, this should be placed within the closing quotation mark, with no other mark outside the quotation mark—only one mark of terminal punctuation is needed")
Would this be applied differently if it was quotes within quotes, like someone speaking? IE: He asked, "Did she say 'Is it raining'?"
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Old 03-14-2019, 09:20 AM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by E.M.DuBois View Post
Would this be applied differently if it was quotes within quotes, like someone speaking? IE: He asked, "Did she say 'Is it raining'?"
I interpret the rule as requiring:

He asked, "Did she say 'Is it raining?'"

That is, the first part of the rule says: "When the quoted sentence ends with a question mark or exclamation mark," (in this case "Is it raining?") "this should be placed within the closing quotation mark", and so that would talking of the inner quotes.
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Old 03-14-2019, 09:36 AM   #14
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had had had had had had had

English is flexible enough that it's possible to make a nonsense of any rule.
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Old 03-14-2019, 12:05 PM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by gmw View Post
Just for fun, Harry, I believe this is correct:

Did she say "Is it raining?"


(According to New Hart's Rules: "When the quoted sentence ends with a question mark or exclamation mark, this should be placed within the closing quotation mark, with no other mark outside the quotation mark—only one mark of terminal punctuation is needed")
But Harry's example was
Quote:
Did she say "It is raining"?
But what if she exclaimed "It is raining!"?
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