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Meme Cultivation
Erowid Punctuation Policy: Data-safe Quotes
Citation:   Erowid E. "Erowid Punctuation Policy: Data-safe Quotes". Erowid Extracts. May 2003;4:11.
One of the quibbles we have with standard English grammar rules pertains to the rules of punctuation for quotations. We believe that the current standard is not only clumsy, but actually harms the information it is charged with communicating, resulting in unacceptable data loss. For the past six years, we have implemented what we call (for the lack of a better term) Erowid Standard editorial style, including a non-standard quotation punctuation policy, which grammar-oriented readers may have noticed or perceived as errors.

Erowid Standard is based on the idea that quotations should remain as true to the original source as possible. The basic rule is that quotations may only contain the original quoted text, bracketed clarifications, and elipses. All other added punctuation goes outside the quotes.

For example, lets say I want to include a quote from John in a sentence in which he originally stated:

I work for the DEA and believe that cannabis should remain illegal.
Now lets say I want to ask the question:

Why did John say "I work for the DEA?"
The above sentence uses standard punctuation rules, requiring the inclusion of the question mark at the end of the sentence inside the quotes, despite the fact that John's statement was not a question. Using Erowid's revised punctuation rules would instead result in:

Why did John say "I work for the DEA"?
We believe this style makes it much clearer exactly what John said. It seems unreasonable to include inside the quotes punctuation that was not a part of the original text.

This policy protects against both adding and changing punctuation. If a quoted statement ends with a period, it is wrong to replace that with a comma inside the quotes (or remove the period entirely!) simply to follow arcane rules of grammar.

While we are aware that the vast weight of the Chicago Manual of Style and MLA rules are against this type of change, we feel strongly that rules which facilitate or induce corrupting quoted data need to be changed and the minor discomfort grammar-sensitive individuals will experience is worth the price of cultivating this meme.

October 2003 Addendum
Since the original publishing of this note in Erowid Extracts, it has been pointed out to us that our style of quotation mark policy bears some similarity to that of British grammar. It should also be noted that the above defined style is being used for new writings on Erowid, but existing documents have not been regularized to this style. A follow on article in Extracts was written : Erowid Punctuation Policy Update: Data-safe Quotes.