By Catherine Lee

When I proofread papers, the most common mistakes that I see people make are with their punctuation. I know punctuation is not fun. Right now, this rainy evening, I am not having fun writing about punctuation. However, getting your punctuation right is a sure-fire way to show people that you really know your stuff, that you’re the paper-writing guru, and that your command of the language is impeccable, so that they won’t mess with you.

When you have a quote that is under three lines in length, periods and commas always go inside quotation marks. I am not going to tell you how many times I have seen this mistake because it will blow up (not just blow, but blow up) your mind.

Wrong way: Clifford gains “pleasant tints and gleams of cheerful light from all quarters”, grows “youthful”, and gets a beauty that “sometimes play[s] and illuminate[s] his face” (Hawthorne 139).

Right way: Clifford gains “pleasant tints and gleams of cheerful light from all quarters,” grows “youthful,” and gets a beauty that “sometimes play[s] and illuminate[s] his face” (Hawthorne 139).

However, as you can see from the examples, when you are citing the author in brackets for a quote that is under three lines in length, the author’s name in brackets go between the last quotation mark and the period, meaning that yes, the period does go outside of the quotation marks. But again, that’s only when you are citing the author in that quote.

Furthermore, when you have a quote that is over three lines in length,  you have to use a block quote. When you have a block quote, you don’t use quotation marks, and the period goes before the author’s name in brackets.

Pyncheon-street was sometimes enlivened by spectacles of more imposing pretensions than the above, and which brought the multitude along with them. With a shivering repugnance at the idea of personal contact with the world, a powerful impulse still seized on Clifford, whenever the rush and roar of the human tide grew strongly audible to him. (Hawthorne 165)

If you are not citing the author with brackets but are using footnotes instead, remember that the period or the comma goes inside the quotation marks, so that the superscript number is at the very end of the sentence!

But when they pull open the front door, step across the threshold and stand, Clifford and Hepzibah feel as if “they [are] standing in the presence of the whole world, and with mankind’s great and terrible eye on them alone.”1

Every single paper that I have read as an editor this semester has made this mistake. Now should you, who have been informed, submit a paper with correct punctuation in quote incorporation, you might just get that extra star from a pleased editor!

For more grammar and punctuation nags or general thesis tips, click here.