If one does a Google search for: site:www.amazon.com “missing quotation marks” one finds over 26,000 hits, most of which are in customer reviews. Some people can see these errors (readers, to be sure) and some cannot (writer, editors, proofreaders). It may be that the more engaging a story is, the less likely it is that a reader (be they author, editor, or proofreader) will spot this kind of error. Still, no excuse.
With the aim to eliminating this blemish, I’ve put together a list of ways to detect errors with quotes. These assume the use of Word, and possibly Excel.
Stray straight quotes and curly quotes that are backwards:
On occasion, a straight quote may sneak into a document where autocorrect should have converted it. Also, particularly when using “track changes,” a quote may end up pointed in the wrong direction. A simple, although scary, way to fix this is to search and replace all double quotes with double quotes. This gives autocorrect a second chance to set them all right. Having said that, one may prefer to deal on a case by case basis.
To find occurrences of straight quotes, do a “wildcard” search for double quotes. Without “Use wildcards” checked, it finds curly quotes as well, which defeats the purpose. The searches below will also find the backward quotes instances.
Missing punctuation before a closing quote:
To find missing punctuation before a closing quote in dialogue, you can search (with “Use wildcards” checked) for: [A-z]”
This will find any occurrence of a letter immediately followed by a curly ending double quote. Some may be valid, such as a double quoted string within narration.
Missing punctuation before an opening quote:
Similarly, you can find missing punctuation before quoted dialog with (note the space): [A-z] “
Again, some may be valid.
Matching opening and closing quotations:
This is a bit tricky.
- Copy the entire manuscript into Excel B1 with Paste/Special/Text. (This incidentally converts all curly quotes to straight quotes.)
- Paste this formula into A1: =LEN(B1)-LEN(SUBSTITUTE(B1,””””,””))
- Fill that formula down. (Highlight column A, then Edit/Fill/Down.)
- Now sort keying on column A. (use “Z->a”)
- Any odd numbers in column A mean that quotes aren’t balanced.
These are places where you might need to edit the original.
On a related note, paragraphs with missing end punctuation:
Make a copy of the document, accept all changes, and turn off tracking (if necessary). With “Use wildcards” unchecked, replace all paragraph marks (^p) with something like: ~~^p
Then, with “Use wildcards” now checked, search for: [A-z]~~
This should show places where you might need to edit the original.
If you know of any other Word proofreading tips, please leave them in the comments below.