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  • Writer's pictureRaphaël Freeman

Who stole my quote marks?

Updated: Jul 21, 2022

We are all used to seeing correct quotation marks in books and newspapers (well at least I hope we are). However, when it comes to websites, all of a sudden we are treated to “dumb quotes” or “straight quotes”. When asking why, the response I receive is “they are not in the font” or a more appropriate answer is that people don’t actually know how to enter these quotation marks on their computer and that’s is possible to do so in Acrobat Reader or in a blog post or even on Facebook.

correct and incorrect quote marks

Before we try and solve the problem, it’s perhaps useful to take a brief historical look at how these, and other typographical marks were actually dealt with.


When the typewriter was invented there were all sorts of limitations in the mechanics of the design. The QWERTY layout was created in order to slow the typist down so that the arms of the keys wouldn’t collide. However, of interest here, was limitation to the overall number of keys.

A decision was made to include only one ' for the open and close quote mark (and of course apostrophe) and only one " for double quotation marks. The single ' (which we’ll refer to as a straight quote for convenience) also doubled (along with backspacing with a full stop/period) as an exclamation point. The same with dashes. The single hyphen had to do in place of the common different dashes, namely the hyphen, en-dash and em-dash as well as the minus sign.


When a typewritten manuscript was sent for typesetting, since the manuscript was in any case being rekeyed in professionally, it would be up to the typesetter to enter the correct quotation marks, dashes etc.


When the first computer keyboards were being designed, there were plenty of keys but they were being designed for programming and it wasn’t necessary when coding to have open and closed quotation marks. In fact, that would only increase the chance of a syntax error.


It was only with the Apple Mac that some thought to quotation marks was given as well as dashes. Right from the beginning (or at least as far as I acn remember), it was built-in to the keyboard albeit a little obscure. The shortcuts for the Mac are as follows:

Perhaps not exactly intuitive right but on the Mac it’s easy to access all sorts of characters from the keyboard very easily. Here is an excellent post on all the characters.


However, on Windows it’s even less intuitive.

If you hold down the ALT key and then press a 4-digit combination on the numeric keypad (it has to be the keypad), you can access a great deal of characters, here are a few “shortcuts”.

Actually, in Windows if you open the Character Map (which I believe has been the same since Windows 3.11 you can see all the characters and, on the bottom, right you can see the keystroke to access that character. So, in the below image you can see how “easy” it is to access the correct multiplication symbol × rather than typing an x. ALT - 0215

Now for those of you who have made it this far down must be thinking surely there is an easier way.

Easier way?

Well, there are a few good options: You could buy a Mac :-) However, if like me, you are sticking to Windows, then if you are using software like Microsoft Word then there is an option for automatically replacing “straight quotes” with “smart quotes” – Word’s nomenclatures for typographer’s quotes. Actually, be careful, they are not so smart – try typing ’70s rather than ‘70s (look closely and you will see that Word will incorrectly type an open quote before the number 7 rather than an apostrophe). Even double hyphens will be replaced with a dash.

However, this is great if you are using software that supports all these characters, but what about if you have corrections to make in your PDF? The number of times I receive a correction such as “reverse quote mark” or a hyphen was entered instead of a dash shows how prevalent the problem is. The ALT-numberic keypad solution will always work but there are a couple of others that you might want to explore which you might find more intuitive.

Text Expander

There are text expander programs such as PhraseExpress which can be very useful. For example, I have set it up so that if I type the letter ‘x’ three times in a row, it gives me the multiplication symbol ×.

Custom Keyboard

Another solution requires a bit more effort, but the results are definitely worth it, and that is to create your own custom keyboard. You can download from Microsoft a free tool called the Microsoft Keyboard Layout Creator. With this tool you can create your own keyboards which you can then install into Windows. So, I programmed my ALT-RIGHT key followed by ( to be my open quote and with the ) to be my closed quote, adding SHIFT for double quotes. As a typesetter, this makes it easier if I have to type special characters such as an ḥ (h dot) which I programmed as ALT-RIGHT-h.

The advantage of using a text expander or customised keyboard is that it will work in all your programs so next time you need to mark up a PDF or write your blog post, then you have access to the characters that you need.


If you want a copy of the above keyboard for Windows, email me and I’ll send it to you with compliments.

If you have a manuscript that needs typesetting then please drop us a line.

And finally, if you have any other solutions that work differently or better still, better than the above, then please leave in the comments selection below.

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