How do you know when they have finished speaking?
Not for the first time, a client was keen to point out recently that we had not closed the quote marks defining his comments, missing them off the end of the first three paragraphs.
I am quick to admit that we are more concerned with telling a compelling story for our clients than being overly concerned with the rigours of punctuation.
Of course, I know it should always be right, if we are to avoid the opprobrium of the grammar police. But there are times, when clarity of meaning, pacing or brevity dictate a bending of the rules. True?
Some of the most perfectly punctuated copy I have ever attempted to read has been produced by lawyers, who undoubtedly sweat over every comma, semi-colon and tilde (you know the little ~moustache~ paired with the # on a surface keyboard).
While we’re on the subject, the uncommon tilde symbol found little use in general writing, with not much call for its mathematical meaning of approximately.
But now, thanks to social media it has developed a new lease of life, typically used to indicate the writer is being intentionally sarcastic or slightly embarrassed over the word or phrase enclosed by the squiggles: “Despite the injuries, it was a great ~ friendly ~ football match.”
Formatting restrictions in most of the platforms are the likely culprit, but it’s always nice to see language evolving.
Sorry, back to the lawyers and their often, perfect punctuation, when even a simple missing comma might cost millions; no honestly. If you don’t believe me, then read this New York Times story and note the value of choosing lawyers who know their grammar: The Comma That Costs 1 Million Dollars (Canadian).
But we’re not writing legal contracts, merely trying to convey important messages for our clients in a way that entices people to want to read them. Simple.
Well not always as the example of the quote marks demonstrates. Once a client has pointed out the ‘mistake’ and ‘corrected’ our work, do we take offence and angrily reply that we’re the experts, that we’re the ones being paid to write the story?
In contradiction of my earlier plea for a little punctuation leeway, there are certain rules the media like us to follow and quotation marks is one of the leading ones. I guess they figure if we can’t even get the simple rule about quote marks right, why should they bother to read further, knowing they will have to edit the piece.
It’s unlikely the story is another Sepp Blatter corruption piece or a scoop revealing yet more bank fraud. It is far more likely to detail a new appointment, a client win or if they are lucky some advice from an expert.
To ignore even the most basic grammar rules puts us at risk of sarcastic responses from the journalists and editors we send our stories to.
Far too often they are presented with little more than a sales pitch dressed up as ‘news’ and whilst some are well-written, engaging and will be of interest to their readers, many will just waste their time – now add a broken rule and the chances of publication fade just that little bit more.
So, for now, as with many ‘corrections’ we take it on the chin, put the copy back as it should be for the release and keep our fingers crossed it’s a story worthy of a wider audience.
And yes, you are right, you only close the quotation marks when you have finished quoting the speaker, even if it’s four paragraphs later.