What Are Smart Quotes & How Should You Use Them?
You might or might not remember typewriters, but their use is responsible for many of the type crimes committed today.
Typewriters had a very limited keyboard, and did not accommodate many of the typographically correct characters we use in professional typesetting. Quotation marks and apostrophes are one example of this: although different from inch and foot marks, they are all represented by the same keys on a typewriter.
But when setting type in the professional arena (as opposed to just “typing”), they are separate and different glyphs.
Quotations marks, also referred to as smart quotes, typographer’s quotes, and sometimes curly quotes (although they don’t have to have the curly design), are design-sensitive, that is, are designed to match the typeface they belong to.
Each typeface has different versions for the left and right (or open and closed) quotes. Apostrophes, which are use to indicate possession and omission, are actually the same, exact glyph used for the single, closed quote, and therefore are also design-sensitive.
Inch and foot marks, also called primes, are different from quotation marks in that they more neutral in appearance (as opposed to matching each typeface), and are either straight or slightly angled, and usually tapered. The glyphs used to set primes are most often the typewriter quotes (also referred to as straight or dumb quotes) available in most fonts, which are vertical strokes.
Note that true primes are slightly angled, but since they are not available in most fonts, the vertical typewriter quotes are the accepted glyphs for measurements in typesetting.
How to Avoid the Wrong Symbol
If the differences between smart and dumb quotes are so obvious, why do we see so many incorrect appearances of these characters in both print and digital media? Part of the fault lies with writers who were taught to type using old-fashioned typewriter conventions, and are not aware of the differences between these characters in proper typesetting.
Either that or they know the differences but don’t know how to access the right character in word processing software. In other cases, copy is lifted from the web, a PDF document, or from an email – all of which can result in quotes and primes being improperly designated.
Even if the copy does contain smart quotes, there are some instances that might still be wrong.
All text should be reviewed for the accurate use of primes in measurements, which might have automatically – and incorrectly – been converted to smart quotes. In addition, be sure to check that abbreviations, contractions and omissions, or all words that should begin with an apostrophe, in fact, do, rather than an open single quote.
But no matter how copy appears, it is up to the designer, production artist, and webmaster/programmer to make it right. Here are some tips to help get it right:
- Begin with typographically correct copy. The default setting of most design software is to automatically use Typographer’s Quotes when typing, but this is not true for all word-processing programs. Therefore, set these preferences to convert to smart quotes. Another way to correct these errors is to use a utility such as Tex-Edit Plus that can clean up a document in seconds.
- Import text properly, using the Place command available in most design software. When using InDesign, select Show Import Options where you can choose the Option to Use Typographer’s Quotes.
- Review imported text and make sure all measurement are set with primes, not smart quotes.
- Check for apostrophes (and not open single quotes) in contractions.
- Always proof the final text carefully.
Smart Punctuation in Digital Media
The same rules and standards for printed matter apply to digital media as well, but the process of applying them might be different. If the copy is formatted correctly, smart quotes might appear automatically when inserted in digital media such as web sites, but in other cases, they will need to be replaced with HTML codes to appear correctly.
When using content management systems (CMS) such as WordPress or Drupal, the ability to set these special characters (as they are often called) is often controlled by preferences in the back end. But even when set to display smart quotes, you might loose the ability to change them back to primes or apostrophes. Additionally, not all email clients (such as Constant Contact) support “smart” punctuation.
Setting type like a pro requires close attention to these – and many other details. No matter what role one plays in the process, it is important that all involved know the proper usage of quotes and primes, and review for their correct appearance.