Single or double quotes

October 20, 2008

On an Australian editors’ email discussion list, Margaret asked:

I have noticed number of manuscripts arriving in which both double and single quotation marks are used; and I have been told, when querying this usage, that this is what the writer was taught to do at university. I have also encountered high school students who have been instructed by their teachers to use single and double marks for different purposes within their essays.

Is there a convention that distinguishes between single and double quotation marks, and has different rules for their application? None of the academic styles that I am familiar with seem to have this feature, and I am puzzled, and would appreciate enlightenment.

My response:

I don’t know about academic style guides, but the Australian Style Manual for authors editors and printers tells us to use single quotes for pretty much everything, except where there’s quoted material inside quotes.

From p112 of the 6th edition: ‘Single quotation marks are recommended for Australian government publications—in keeping with the trend towards minimal punctuation. Double quotation marks are then used for quotes within quotes.’

Under Direct Speech (on the same page), there’s this: ‘Direct speech is enclosed in single quotation marks.’ Same rule for direct quotations, titles of works, etc. (p113-116)

I’m still trying to break the habit of double quotes for direct speech, which is what I was taught at school.

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