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Percentages, Thoughts, and Single and Double Quotation Marks

By July 17, 2018 No Comments

Writers asked; I answered.

Q: In this sentence (for a nonfiction book), which version would be correct? (Or should it be something else?)

  1. Most lenders expect your mortgage payments not to exceed 28% of your income, and that your entire debt obligations should not exceed 36%.
  2. Most lenders expect your mortgage payments not to exceed 28 percent of your income, and that your entire debt obligations should not exceed 36 percent.
  3. Most lenders expect your mortgage payments not to exceed twenty-eight percent of your income, and that your entire debt obligations should not exceed thirty-six percent.

A: You have every right to be confused, because all three ways are acceptable, depending upon what you’re writing. If you are writing a book, the second example would be appropriate.

Here’s part of the explanation from my book doctor’s desk reference, Purge Your Prose of Problems:

Except at the beginning of sentences, percentages are usually expressed in numerals. In nontechnical contexts, the word percent is preferred, but in scientific or statistical copy or lists, use the symbol %. Nontechnical Context: Only 6 percent of the workers took early retirement. Beginning of Sentence: Twenty percent of the people did 80 percent of the work. Scientific/Statistical Copy: Fewer than 20% of the sharks reacted to the stimulus.

Q: I have a question regarding inner thoughts and monologue. I write mysteries in third-person deep POV. I have read many fiction works using a sentence and adding she/he thought. I’ve also seen the inner thoughts/monologue in italics.

I’ve recently read to leave off he/she thought as well as don’t use italics because “real people have thoughts and speak to themselves, so it stands to reason a reader will know when characters are thinking or talking to themselves.”

What is your advice?

A: A monologue is defined as a long speech by a character. By definition, then, monologues would be in quotation marks.

As for inner thoughts, the debate on the subject continues. The Chicago Manual of Style does not say to italicize thoughts, yet writers have been doing so for years. As long as thoughts are written in a way that readers will clearly see they are thoughts, we don’t have to italicize them or add tags such as “he/she thought” or “he/she wondered.”

Here is an example: Jack examined the suspicious package. Is it a bomb? Should I open it, or should I take it to the police? If I move it, will it explode? He decided to leave it where it was and call in the experts.

Q: Please tell me how to punctuate this sentence: Donald told me, My sailor friend says, Once a Navy plane, always a Navy plane.

A: The answer depends upon the context. If the entire sentence is dialogue, it would be punctuated this way: “Donald told me, ‘My sailor friend says, “Once a Navy plane, always a Navy plane.”‘”

If the first portion is narrative, it would be punctuated this way: Donald told me, “My sailor friend says, ‘Once a Navy plane, always a Navy plane.'”

The rule is that single quotation marks go inside double quotation marks, but if a quote appears within a quote, use double quotation marks. At the end you must have all the closing marks. In the first instance, if the entire sentence is in dialogue, the end marks would be double quote, single quote, double quote. Whenever punctuation becomes awkward in this way, strong writers recast the sentence to avoid the awkwardness. It could be recast this way, for example: “Donald told me that his sailor friend says, ‘Once a Navy plane, always a Navy plane.'”

Bobbie Christmas, book editor, author of Write In Style: Use Your Computer to Improve Your Writing, and owner of Zebra Communications, will answer your questions, too. Send them to Bobbie@zebraeditor.com.

 

Bobbie Christmas

Bobbie Christmas

Editor Bobbie Christmas is your book doctor. She can also be your mentor, ghostwriter, copywriter, and writing and publishing consultant. After spending decades writing and editing for a living, Bobbie became a much-sought-after seminar and workshop leader. She began Zebra Communications in 1992 in Atlanta, Georgia, to provide professional editing services to publishers and to writers like you.

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