Working as a professional editor for Warner House Press has been an educational and sometimes challenging experience. No longer can I simply rely on “my gut” for how things should be spelled, syntax arranged, or grammar applied. It seemed prudent to have an objective standard we could fall back on in cases of uncertainty, so we chose the Chicago Manual of Style, which is geared specifically toward editing and publishing. I soon found, however, that a number of minor details I took for granted in terms of grammar and, particularly, punctuation, were actually incorrect as far as the CMS was concerned.
One of these, the one I perhaps struggled with the most, was the placement of punctuation in regards to quotation marks. I had always thought it most logical to place the punctuation “outside”. After all, a period or a comma isn’t part of what’s being quoted, so why should it be included within? To my surprise, the CMS states that, for American works, punctuation must always be included “inside,” with very few exceptions.
My certainty that I had been doing this right was nearly unshakable, yet I was provided with objective evidence that my method was wrong. It’s taken some time to “unlearn” this habit, but in the meantime I’ve also endeavored to discover why I had been so sure in my placement of punctuation outside quotation marks. To my surprise, it seemed that the many hours I spent reading British literature in my youth were the culprit. In British works, my way of doing things was perfectly standard. Only when writing for an American audience was I in error. Warner House Press works mainly in the American market, so, to my mild chagrin, I had to change my way of doing things.
If anyone else has struggled with this, the solution is simple, if a bit unintuitive: For American writing, the punctuation always goes “inside.” Only if you’re writing for a British audience should a comma or period ever find its way “outside”. There is one notable exception to this rule, and what should it be except the “question mark”? Those go outside quotation marks, unless the content being referenced is in itself a question. Things might get rather confusing otherwise.