Section 7.75 in the Spotlight

7.757.75 Distinguishing words to be typed and other elements

There is a part of CMOS 7.75 that continues to trouble readers, probably because it is an exception to the general rule (stated at 6.9) that “periods and commas precede closing quotation marks, whether double or single.”

This exception comes into play in typing a very specific kind of content such as computer instructions, where putting a period or comma inside the quotation marks would cause confusion over whether the punctuation is part of the command. As you may have discovered at one point or other, extra punctuation can cause a computer command to fail.

For that reason, it’s best to avoid quotation marks when indicating terms to be typed. If possible, use bold, italics, color, or some other way to distinguish the term. But as we say at 7.75,

If quotation marks must be used, any punctuation that is not part of the quoted expression should appear outside the quotation marks.”

Click on Save As; name your file “appendix A, v. 10”.

To clarify: section 7.75 is located in the section of chapter 7 called “Computer Terms” and is not meant to apply generally to just any “words to be typed.” Normally, commas and periods go inside the quotation marks. Section 7.75 does not apply to sentences like the following, which are styled correctly and are not likely to cause any confusion:

Please type this letter and begin with the salutation “Dear Bob.”
They signed all their Christmas cards “The Smiths.”

On the other hand, there are times when it can’t hurt to exercise the extra care advised by 7.75, even when we aren’t writing computer instructions:

Please provide 300 cupcakes decorated with “Congratulations, PhD”.

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