Let’s say you’re always good about citing your sources, checking that you didn’t introduce typos into your quoted material, and marking any changes to the original with clear indicators like ellipsis points and brackets, with an appropriately placed “[sic]” where you made a point not to change it. These are all good things to be aware of. But there are a handful of changes you can make to quotations that actually shouldn’t be bracketed if you’re using APA or Chicago style.*
If you have either manual in front of you, we’ll be working with APA section 6.07 and Chicago section 13.7. There are three types of changes that both manuals allow you to change without indication.
The Case of the First Letter in a Quotation
That heading sounds like a very library-centric Nancy Drew mystery, but we’re just talking about lowercase and uppercase letters. Many conscientious scholars have noticed this treatment of a quotation in a book or article and thoughtfully applied it to their own work:
Original: He had little schooling, and he describes his early surroundings as poor and mean.†
In the original, the word “he” was capitalized, and the author quoting it is being careful enough to indicate their change. There are styles that require that the h be bracketed in this case, but neither Chicago nor APA is among them. In the APA’s words, “The first letter of the first word in a quotation may be changed to an uppercase or a lowercase letter.” So if you’re following either of these styles, you should really write:
Correct for APA/Chicago: Most modern readers might be surprised that “he had little schooling, and he describes his early surroundings as poor and mean.”
Quotation Marks within a Quotation
The quotation marks that appear in a text may be double (“/”) or single (‘/’) depending on the style the original author was following, on whether the quotation itself is within a quotation, and in some cases whether the text is quoted material or words being presented “as words.” When you quote material including quotation marks, you might need to switch from single to double or vice versa. Both APA and Chicago allow this change without any indication that you did it. Here’s an example:
Original: Lyra said, “Ah! Marchpane!” and settled back comfortably to hear what happened next.‡
The dialogue was enclosed within double quotation marks in the original, so they appear in single quotation marks in the quoted version, within double quotation marks that surround the entire quoted sentence. The bracketed s indicates a letter changed from the original. That is a type of quotation change you need to make clear.
The Punctuation Mark at the End of the Quotation
This punctuation mark should suit your text’s syntax, which may or may not be that used in the original.
Original: So we have to start small, by thinking through what is needed for a new gender ideology for everyone and for new types of relationships for African Amerian women and men based on these fresh ways of seeing others and ourselves. Forging our own original paths might enable us to develop a progressive Black sexual politics that one day will meet the challenge of HIV/AIDS.§
Note that Collins’s sentence ends after “HIV/AIDS,” but mine doesn’t. So while she follows the abbreviations with a period, I follow them with a comma to suit my context. That change doesn’t need to be given brackets or any other kind of identifying marks. Next, I made the opposite change: whereas “women and men” appears unpunctuated in the middle of a sentence for her, it’s at the end of the sentence in mine and thus gets a period, also unbracketed.
And yes, the comma and the period both go within the quotation marks, as they always do in APA and Chicago styles, regardless of what the text is. The rules are a little different for other punctuation marks (e.g., semicolons, question marks, parentheses), but those are beyond the scope of this post.
Additional Changes Specific to Chicago Style
The three above are the only changes APA allows to be implemented without indication, but Chicago has a few more.
So use your best judgment:
* Chicago Manual of Style (16th ed.) or American Psychological Association (6th ed.). These are the two books my particular work niche has me use most often, and if you’re in the humanities or social sciences, chances are good you need to use one or both of these too.
† Charles W. Eliot, introductory note to The Pilgrim’s Progress, by John Bunyan, The Harvard Classics, Vol. 15 (New York: P. F. Collier & Son, 1909), 3.
‡ Philip Pullman, The Amber Spyglass (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2007), 447.
§ Patricia Hill Collins, Black Sexual Politics: African Americans, Gender, and the New Racism (New York: Routledge, 2004), 301.
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