I am a court reporter, and I was recently informed that I should not put a comma before a quote from a document. E.g., in the sentence: John said, "We need to clear this item," the comma after "said" is appropriate, but in the sentence: Paragraph 2 says "We need to clear this item," a comma after "says" would be inappropriate. Anybody else ever hear of that rule? It's new to me.


I've never heard of this distinction, though it may be upheld in some very specialized style guide for court reporters. For general purposes, the advice in Chicago Manual of Style, 15th Edition (2003) is sensible and sufficiently detailed to cover most situations:

6.53 Comma with quoted material. Quoted material, if brief, is usually introduced by a comma; if longer or more formal, by a colon [citations omitted]. If a quotation is introduced by that, whether, or a similar conjunction, no comma is needed. [Examples omitted.]

11.20 Use of the colon [with introductory phrases]. A formal introductory phrase, such as thus or the following, is usually followed by a colon. [Example omitted.] Such perfunctory phrases as "Jacqueline Jones writes:" or "The defendant stated:" are often awkward, and sensitive writers avoid them.

11.21 Use of the comma [with introductory phrases]. A comma, rather than a colon is often used after said, replied, asked, and similar verbs. [Examples omitted.]

The crucial point here is that Chicago bases its advice about when to use a colon, when to use a comma, and when to use neither on the relationship between the introductory wording and the following quotation, not on whether the source of the quotation is a person or a document.


There is nothing inherently wrong with using a comma, colon, or other mark to introduce the quote.

The argument could be made, however, that the paragraph is not itself saying anything. As such, "say" there is not a speech tag, and the quotation is not direct speech. Rather, the quote in that instance is part of the sentence itself. Consider

Paragraph 2 says (that) "We need to clear this item."


Paragraph 2 outlines the "need to clear this item".

So it could be seen as "inappropriate" to suggest that the paragraph is speaking. It might pay to check whether they would accept a colon instead, eg,

Paragraph 2 says: "We need to clear this item."

But note that many instances of punctuation are a matter of stylistic preference, so you should go with whatever your employer has deemed right.

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