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As a programmer who often communicates through text, I find myself frequently having to refer to something in quotes, like ;. This is fine for most things, but it can get confusing when referring to quotation marks themselves like ' or ". It can get even more confusing when referring to multiples of something: "#s" could mean literally "#s" or multiple #. And then after the message there usually has to be some text to say that the quotation marks aren't included in what you are saying because #" means something different from #.

Is there any way to simplify this?

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I like to wrap symbols in square brackets. I keep single quotes ['] and double quotes ["] for text. –  whoabackoff Jul 28 '11 at 18:55
    
I have noticed that even people editing my post have trouble getting the point across. –  Joel Jul 29 '11 at 2:17
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1 Answer 1

up vote 2 down vote accepted

This entirely depends on the format. EL&U, for instance, uses Markdown formatting which allows you place specific characters within code blocks as such. This would replace the quotes that are being used to wrap the actual quotation marks:

  • Example one uses the characters '"

In common text, however, you are stuck with the available wrapping characters of '"(){}[]. Nesting or escaping this can easily confuse readers but there are tricks that can help:

Please enter "Test" into the field (no quotes)

This is the most common because it is unambiguous with regards to what is being entered but also allows for special characters or multiple words:

Please enter "Test five" into the field (no quotes)

Please enter "90#8mrk" into the field (no quotes)

Obviously, as you mentioned, you wouldn't be able to use quotes with this mechanism. I personally prefer to use new lines for such content (with an indent if at all possible):

Please enter the following text (including symbols):

"f94kk;'4\


Please enter the following text (including punctuation):

"I am John," he said.

This stops working if you need to include whitespace as well but at this point you may as well be talking to a programmer in code.

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Excellent answer (+1). Additionally, sometimes, without using a separate line, I'll work around this type of problem by placing the literal text after the end of the paragraph; The password is: alpha"5@78 –  Randolf Richardson Jul 28 '11 at 19:51
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