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quotations: introduction

The main use of quotation marks is to set off the exact words of a speaker or written source from the main body of a text. The quotation may consist of one or more complete sentences or paragraphs, parts of a sentence or paragraph or as little as one word.

As an alternative to the use of quotation marks in the run-in format (quotations integrated into the text), direct quotations may be indicated by means of indentation and/or reduced leading (space between lines) or font size, called the block format.

Whichever format is adopted, the quoted matter should normally be faithfully reproduced in every detail: the spelling, punctuation and other characteristics of the original may not be changed without good reason.

Bear in mind, too, that the excessive use of quotations can mar the appearance of a page and make it difficult for the reader to follow the ideas being presented; it is often better to paraphrase, use indirect speech or give a summary of the ideas concerned in your own words—in each instance accompanied by a footnote providing the source of information.

However, quotations are justified if the intention is to demonstrate a particular characteristic, style or wording, or to compare quotations; if the material is striking, memorable or well known; or if the quotation itself is an example or proof of what is being discussed, as in the case of legal evidence.

In our articles, we follow the predominant Canadian practice of placing the period or comma within closing quotation marks and using double rather than single quotation marks (except for quotations within quotations).

For more information, see our articles on specific points relating to the use of quotations and quotation marks.