A Man Walks Into a Bar: Riff #8

Two quotation marks walk into a “bar.”

OK, this is a “picky” point. I “admit” it. I certainly don’t intend for anyone to “take offence” from this “rule.”

There are many valid uses for quotation marks, and you can check them out, here. In proposals, other than direct quotes from people (as in, for example, a kudo) . . .

Good job, buddy.

. . . the most-common valid use would be to indicate that the words within the quotes are to be read as the words themselves.

We will enter “Does not comply”
for any task where this applies.

The next would be to indicate that you’re using a term to which the RFP or SOW has assigned a specific meaning and that might (could, maybe) be misinterpreted or misunderstood otherwise.

We clean floors thoroughly,
but we don’t “strip” floors (as prohibited by SOW 4.5.2)
because it would pose a health-and-safety risk.

This latter usage is likely not needed for clarity anywhere near as often as it’s used, but it ain’t wrong.

The usage being demonstrated or railed against here is using quotation marks to put some distance between the writer and the word, to lessen its validity in some way. To make the reader question what the word means. There are no valid proposal uses for using the written equivalent of scare quotes.

That’s a bit “sweeping”, isn’t it?

No. It’s sweeping.

In conversation, scare quotes are cutesy. (Or maybe passive aggressive.) In proposal writing they’re just wrong. Say what you mean, dagnab it. Don’t dodge around it. If this isn’t the right word, find one that’s better. More accurate. More precise. More complete. Less emotive.

OK, this is a picky point. I admit it. I certainly don’t intend for anyone to take offence from this rule.



  1. Jim Taylor

    Definitely wrong when used for emphasis: We do “not” strip floors… Often wrong when used for sarcasm: the so-called “Democratic” Party…
    My own rule is that if you (the writer) need special punctuation marks to show the reader how to read that sentence, you should consider revising the sentence, rather than misusing standard punctuation formulae.

    Jim T

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