Being smart about smart quotes?

August 11, 2008

When the TSNE website was last redesigned, staff looked at other nonprofit websites to get a sense of whether or not they were using smart quotes in web text. The prevailing trend seemed to be that smart quotes were common, and a choice to use smart quotes on the new site was made.

However, it turned out to be more time-consuming than intended. When under deadline, having to go through and change each individual quote and apostrophe on top of everything else was a headache.

But it has been improving over recent months. While no CMS can handle direct pasting of MS Word documents as well as it claims, it does seem to be a focus of improvement for many vendors. Because let’s face it — we all paste from Word whenever we can. Having formatting – including smart quotes – carry over cleanly is highly desirable.

So now we’re putting together thoughts for the next redesign, and it’s time to revisit the topic of smart quotes. Do we still want to use them on our website? Are other sites still using them? Will they become easier to use as CMSes work to integrate MS Word documents more cleanly?

A big question – for one of our web staff, anyway – is whether readers notice smart quotes/lack thereof, and if so, what do they think of them. Without going to look at any websites, what would you say the standard is? After going to look at your favorite websites, did your memory hold up?

Other thoughts?

3 Responses to “Being smart about smart quotes?”

  1. Well, I have to admit I’m from the Old World of typesetting, so I am very aware when a web site doesn’t use smart quotes. (Or for that matter newsletters, emails, flyers, etc.) Punctuation is always meant to help the reader navigate text. Smart quotes tell you whether you’re coming or going, beginning or ending. They are a perfect example of the little things that count.

  2. Robert Smith Says:

    If you are positive all of your readers will be browsing from a windows desktop, and will have all of the same fonts loaded that you use, then smart quotes are not completely evil.

    If any of those things are not true, be aware that your “smart quotes” may look nothing at all like quotes to some of your audience.

  3. David Lawrence Says:

    For what its worth, I am not a regular reader of this site, and I realize this article is several months old now, but I found it after I just Googled on “smart quotes considered evil” to see whether anyone had done a good essay on it.

    Count me as firmly against smart quotes. They are unnecessary, unportable and create interoperability problems. Every time I run into so called “smart” quotes causing me problems with readability, or when I try to copy, paste or otherwise process some data, I curse Microsoft once more.

    Don’t give in to their non-standard foolishness. Stick with ASCII. It just works.

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