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Wising up to Smart Quotes in Word
(And fixing them when they go wrong)

Sep 16, 2020   [permalink]

So, yeah, been a while since I did a blog post, thought I better do one. :)

Since ReAnimus Press deals with a lot of OCR'd and funky copy&pasted manuscripts that have all sorts of wrong style of double quotes in them, I thought I'd share a quick tip how to fix smart quotes in a Word document.

(Smart quotes are the ones that are left and right facing, “like this.” As opposed to non-smart "straight" quotes, that are the same for left and right, "like this." Printed books almost always use smart quotes to look more professional, and a book with straight quotes in it can look amateurish. In the old days of computing and before that for typewriters, there was only the one double-quote character on the keyboard. Typesetting and modern character sets allow for the left/right facing quotes, but they're different characters. Word can do either approach. There's still only the one key on your keyboard, but Word guesses when the smart quotes option is turned on. OCR and copy/paste often make a mess of smart quotes, or maybe they just weren't in there to begin with.)

First—ok, first make a safe backup of your file under some other name in case anything goes south—then—

First, turn on the option for Word to always do smart quotes in your document. It's in something like Tools / Proofing / AutoCorrect Options / AutoFormat / "Replace straight quotes with smart quotes." Check that box wherever you find it. Also check the same box in the "AutoFormat As You Type" tab.

That's for what happens going forward. But you've still got a file full of the wrong kind of quotes, right?

To fix the existing non-smart quotes, go to Find/Replace. In the Find box, type one double quote. In the Replace box, same thing, one double quote. Now do Replace All. That will go find all your double quotes and replace them with... double quotes... but because the Smart Quotes option is turned on, viola! they all turn into curly quotes.

Now, I've found that at least my version of Word has a hard time guessing which direction quote to use when it's adjacent to an "em-dash" (—) character. Like,

      “Next time“—his eyes squinted viciously—”I'll take a chance on murder.”

Oopsie! If you can see the font ok, the quotes face the wrong way next to the dashes.

If you have any em-dashes in your text, I suggest you check the quote directions after you do the Find/Replace. To do that easily, do a Find for this:    "^+     and this:    ^+"

That's a regular quote on before/after ^+ (circumflex plus-sign) which is a Word "Find" short-cut for the em-dash.

Look at each of those you find, one at a time, and fix any wrong ones by deleting the quote and typing a new one (sometimes that works) or, if it still picks the wrong direction, type a space, type a letter like "x" and another space, then type the quote you want either before or after the x (Word usually guesses correctly when it's on the appropriate side of a letter), then delete the x and the spaces you added. That will leave the quote character behind.

To fix single quotes, do the same Find/Replace trick, replacing ' with '  —Usually this goes ok, but in the unlikely case you have single quotes next to em-dashes, check those. (I rarely see that happen, but, only you know what you're writing.)

One added tip: If you know most the quotes are correct and you don't want to risk mangling any of the already-smart quotes near em-dashes, but you think you might have some straight quotes you still have to fix, do this: When you do the Find/Replace with the one double quote in each box, _also_ turn on the extra option to "Use wildcards." When in "wildcard" mode, Word only matches a straight quote in the Find process; whereas normally during Find a double quote character will match any of the three kinds of double quotes (straight/left/right). Wildcard mode happens to turn that off. (You'd have to really type in a left facing quote to match one during wildcard mode, if that was your goal. But put in the straight one and it will only match straight ones, so you can fix just those.)

Hope that helps!

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