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Thursday, June 23, 2011

The problem with quotation marks...

...is that many people still don't know how to use them in a running quote (one that runs into two or more paragraphs).

Take this example from the July 1 issue of Forbes India:

Says Badri, “In the first year, in order to choose my humanity subject, I had to take an English test. All those who got good marks were allowed to choose German or other easy subjects and all those who ‘failed’ that test were forced to take English. Needless to say, I failed. I was saddled with English for two semesters. But the sad thing was I couldn’t do well in those classes either.

Here was an English teacher who knew pretty well that she had to deal with the ‘dregs’ of the society, and she hated it and made it clear in the class what she thought of us. 

I can remember only two friends for much of the first semester in Mechanical Engineering out of a class of 65 or so, because those two were the only ones who would speak to me in Tamil. Then it widened to about five friends. Normally, most freshers get a room only on the ground floor (considered to be low class!). By the end of first year, all those in the ground floor move to first or second. I was so friendless that I simply decided to stay for the second year at a stretch in the ground floor. Only in my third year did I move to the first floor.”

From that first floor at IIT Madras to Cornell in Ithaca, USA, wasn’t that difficult a transition. At Cornell, he successfully completed his doctoral work. But towards the end, he got disenchanted with the cliques and politics of the academic world and this is when a chance encounter with a researcher in England and a cricket enthusiast in Australia led to cricinfo.com.

The first three paragraphs in this excerpt from Subroto Bagchi's Zen Garden column in the magazine are made up of a long quotation from the interviewee, Badri Seshadri of New Horizon Media, a Bangalore-based company. Now, since the quote continues in the second and third paragraphs, there should be open quotation marks at the beginning of each of those paragraphs. So where are they?

I have learned, from past experience as a teacher, that there are a lot of people out there who do not know how to use quotation marks in a running quote. IT guru Subroto Bagchi may be one of them. But the journalists at the Forbes India desk should have caught this slip.

Here's the rule you should know: "When quotes run into two or more paragraphs, each new paragraph takes opening quote marks, but only the final paragraph takes closing quote marks."