Thursday, April 29, 2021


 Picture the internal writing process as a study paneled with rich oak book cases from floor to ceiling accompanied by overstuffed red leather armchairs arranged in a semi-circle in front of an antique mahogany desk with matching credenza. The inhabitants of my study include my inner critic, nicknamed I.C., Creativity, Hope and Reason. 

The last few weeks have seen I.C. sitting in pride of place at the mahogany desk since I’ve been in editing mode. I’ve declared the editing finished twice, only to have I.C. override me because her perfectionist soul spots “just one more” correction. Creativity has been standing in front of the desk, her foot tapping in an ever-faster rhythm the longer I.C. keeps at it. She is now ready to knock I.C. out with a good right hook, tie her up, and lock her in the closet so all of us can start something new. Reason has been holding her back, but after this final edit, I suspect I.C. will have a black eye and a month-long vacation in the coat closet.         

As critical as she is, even I.C. was stymied by the editorial comment we received when I ran a small sample of my manuscript through an on-line editing program. The program announced that my sample had “Straight quotes mixed with curly quotes.” 

Say what? 

Since the sentence the editing program was referring to was a question, my befuddled mind wondered if the grammar powers-that-be had changed the rules about the way a question is punctuated. Had straight quotes replaced the question mark? After all, “?” contains curves in it. And the “two spaces after a sentence” rule changed without my knowledge or consent sometime after I taught myself to type in 1990 on one of the very first home word processors. After a consultation with the personalities in my mind yielded nothing, I resorted to strenuous research – I googled it.         

Google came through yet again. Apparently, some computer engineer way back in the infancy of word processing programs streamlined the program by using quote marks that are two straight little lines—"—the advantage being that you only need one computer code for quote marks. Since people have been taught since grammar school, at least where cursive is taught, that quote marks must be curved, the straight quote marks were not favored. Thus, the users forced later software engineers to add an additional two computer codes that allowed quotation marks to be displayed in the manner God intended, with curves – “Open Quote/End Quote.” (We know this is what God intended because He used curly quote marks on the stone tablets bearing the Ten Commandments.) 

The plot thickens. As word processing programs evolved, yet another group of computer programmers decided to improve the lives of writers everywhere by choosing default settings rather than allowing the typist/writer to format her own document. Unfortunately, whoever decided what the defaults would be had no interest in what would be best for typography, creative writing or typists. (Don’t even get me started on what it takes to figure out how to do dot leaders or underline spaces!) 

So, my mixed straight quotes and curly quotes were the result of diametrically opposed default settings on the two different computers used while working on my manuscript. One computer uses straight quotes instead of curly quotes, and the other likes curly quotes, not straight quotes. And while most other formatting changes transferred easily between the two computers, the quotes did not. Hence the criticism of my mixed quotes and the subsequent befuddlement of myself, I.C., Creativity and Reason. Now to correct the problem…


  1. I had an older, much-revised manuscript that had this problem. Now I know why. It was in the works long enough to span multiple computers. Solving the issue is truly a pain in the nether regions. Find and Replace doesn't cooperate in this case. The book is now published, but I still don't know if I fixed them all.

  2. Are curly quotes font specific (TNR v. Calibri)?

  3. Nancy & Annette - find and replace in Microsoft Word can work if you use special character codes. For e-books, you can also do search and replaces for straight quotes to curly.

    I always do a search and replace for double spaces. I usually introduce them in the editing process rather than creation. I also do a search for spaces at the beginning of paragraphs that often result when I split one paragraph into two.

    It's frustrating and takes a little time, but I know I can find and fix those -- now dangling modifiers . . .

  4. I use some of the techniques Jim mentions in editing, but there always is something that gets away from me. Nice to understand what the problem is caused by.

  5. Thanks for the interesting info. I'm old enough to have been through a number of word processing systems, and dread the incarnation of yet another one someday.

  6. Have you met trailing whitespace? That one was new to me, so I asked one of the younger librarians at work - what the heck? - and she clued me in. Trailing whitespace is a space or tab after the last non-whitespace character in a paragraph. These days, apparently, they cause a problem (or my meticulous line editor pretends they do), and because we're in the habit of adding a space or two after final punctuation, they show up (or don't, because they're whitespace, which is invisible). The newest edition of Word kindly points them out.

  7. Technology can drive you crazy!! Good luck on getting your manuscript changed.