10

Obviously editing a post merely to replace ordinary quotes with “ ” or ‘’ would seem to be an unnecessary edit that does not sufficiently improve a post, much like editing a post merely to insert an m-dash in place of a hyphen, or insert/remove an Oxford comma. When making more substantial edits, though, is it acceptable to replace straight quotes with their more typographically correct1 curly equivalents? Or does that hamper readability?

1: There’s an issue with replacing straight quotes with curly quotes inside code blocks. They aren’t correct there. But that’s a separate issue.

5

I would advise against this. For me, and I think 95% of the entire Stack Exchange community, this is a matter of style, just like using American or British spelling, or putting a { at the end of the line instead of on a new line. In fact, because it's so hard to type smart quotes in the post editor, ordinary quotes have become the de facto standard here, and smart quotes look out of place. So if the OP uses smart quotes, I would not replace them, but neither would I the other way around.

5

How should this hamper readability? Readability is determined by some factors:

  1. What readers are used to – even despite half a century of ASCII and the Internet, curly quotes are used in almost every book, scientific paper, and most other printed media (and at least some parts of the Internet). So this is what people are used to.

  2. Accessible information – Curly quotes allow you to distinguish between opening and closing quotes directly. Of course, there are other means to do so, but readability often relies on redundancy: Removing all capital letters, punctuation, and even vowels still makes most texts decypherable – but not readable. Arguably, on smaller zoom levels, this advantage gets lost, but still, no harm arises from it.

    This in particular applies to many languages other than English which have a more prominent distinction between opening and closing quotes.

  3. Typographical Harmony – This applies only to the titles on some sites. Consider this title which I just happened to see on English Language & Usage:

    ‘never obvious’ vs 'not obvious at all'

    For some reason, the first pair of quotes is curly, while the second one isn’t (and probably because the first one is, SE’s auto-curling did not activate). Since this is an italic font, dominated by round forms, straight quotes are dissonant (and cannot be made more harmonious by the type designer since they may not bent in either direction). See this post of mine on Graphic Design for more examples and more elaboration.

There is also the factor of portability to consider, but since Stack Exchange thankfully supports Unicode rather well, I see no reason not to make use of it (when appropriate).

By the way, at least on some Stack Exchanges, quotes in titles are automatically rendered as curly quotes.

So, if you are willing to spend the time on inserting curly quotes or it’s not really a time issue for you, since they are readily available on your keyboard (like they are on mine), I do not see any reason from keeping you from doing so (given that the edit is substantial otherwise).

  • I understand that there are good reasons to prefer smart quotes, and that plenty of people do, but there are also people who don't. In the end it's still a stylistic change, and unnecessary stylistic changes are generally frowned upon. In this case, it's also a stylistic change that it's actively difficult for future editors to stay consistent with - they'll have to copy-paste the quotes. – Cascabel Oct 4 '16 at 17:57
  • @Jefromi: but there are also people who don't – I have never seen anybody reject curly quotes for stylistic reason, though that I do not doubt that such people exists. But then again, there are people who (claim that they) prefer using lowercase letters only, all caps or even writing 𝓁𝒾𝓀ℯ 𝓉𝒽𝒾𝓈. – Wrzlprmft Oct 4 '16 at 18:34
  • Right, there are people with both preferences, and people who don't care, so it's a style issue. And the rule of thumb for those is, err on the side of assuming that the author wrote it how they wanted it, and just don't make unnecessary style edits. You don't know who will be okay with it and who won't, and lack of rollback just demonstrates that they don't object enough to argue, not that they actually prefer it. – Cascabel Oct 4 '16 at 18:40
  • @Jefromi: Right, there are people with both preferences, and people who don't care, so it's a style issue. – With the same argument, we should refrain from editing out all caps, no caps, no paragraphs, spelling, and punctuation errors, as there could always be somebody who exactly wants it that way because they consider it a style issue. For written language to be easily readable, we have to agree upon standards and as long as largely undisputed standards exist (which I consider to be the case here), we should strive for them (within the limits of economic feasibility). – Wrzlprmft Oct 4 '16 at 18:59
  • Okay plenty of people with both preferences, and legitimate arguments for both. (The same does not really apply to capitalization, punctuation, or spelling.) If you discover that the vast majority of people prefer smart quotes, e.g. via support on meta for adopting it as part of a style guide for an entire site, then I'd retract what I said. But I don't think the support is that strong. – Cascabel Oct 4 '16 at 19:04
  • @Jefromi: What are the legitimate stylistic arguments for non-smart quotes? I do not dispute that there are economic arguments, but these do not really apply here as this is the problem of the editor. – Wrzlprmft Oct 4 '16 at 19:12
  • The site's UI is a reality we have to work with; we can't just ignore it. There may be future editors, and given the UI, they may not be as willing or able to use smart quotes and keep the post consistent. And as long as the editor doesn't automatically do smart quotes, most of the site isn't going to be using them, so it's not so clear that smart quotes are the most familiar or typographically harmonious. (And backing up, the actual arguments are kind of moot - to make a whole-site style guide, you need strong support, not just strong arguments.) – Cascabel Oct 4 '16 at 19:37
  • @Jefromi: There may be future editors, and given the UI, they may not be as willing or able to use smart quotes and keep the post consistent. – That would only apply to a vanishing amount of edits: Given that the first editor bothered about smart quotes, they probably were already quite thorough leaving little that required additional editing, and then the second edit has to insert an additional pair of quotes. And unless you want to ban smart quotes altogether, you will have to live with such an inconsistency anyway (over a given site, the Internet, and all text). – Wrzlprmft Oct 4 '16 at 19:52
  • The site's UI is a reality we have to work with; we can't just ignore it. – I wouldn’t blame the site for this but the predominant keyboard layout. But I digress. – Wrzlprmft Oct 4 '16 at 19:53
  • Let us continue this discussion in chat. – Cascabel Oct 4 '16 at 20:01
1

I’m a frequent user of these apostrophes, mainly as a simple matter of personal preference. I don’t always add them when editing, but I sometimes do (occasionally to get over the edit limit, which I’m always very honest about in the edit description). Only once, across many years of doing this, have I had any form of pushback, so I assume that it’s broadly accepted (or not noticed).

On some sites, such as Sci Fi & Fantasy, properly curled quotation marks are necessary, as the font used there renders uncurled ones as if they are right curled, which is fine for apostrophes but looks very odd for anything else. (See also Christianity.)

0

While most of the time the markdown filter’s automatic replacement of straight quotes with directional ones does the right thing, I assume there are cases where it would choose the wrong quote. If the author wants to be explicit to avoid ambiguity or the editor wants to fix the markdown filter’s incorrect guess, I’d argue that the edit replacing straight quotes with directional ones needs to be made.

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