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This may not show up in common usage, but I write assessment reports and will often have to document the patient has several remaining questions for their physician. Since the report will be kept forever and could even be subpoenaed, I try to quote many statements exactly so there is no confusion.

Example 1:
She reported two remaining questions for the treatment team: “What is the recovery time?” and “What will I be able to do or not to do?”

When there are many questions, I will usually make a list:

Example 2:
She reported several remaining questions for the treatment team:
1. “What is the recovery time?”
2. "What will I be able to do or not to do?"
3. "How will the leads be placed?"

But when the patient has only one or even two questions, the list seems too much. But those are my two examples. So the dilemma, these are actual quotes that are also questions. Are commas or semi-colons needed, and if so do they go inside or outside of the quotation marks. And when the quote is a question, what about the period at the end of the sentence.

I suspect that I have changed my reasoning a few times over the years, but this is bugging me. For a while, I definitely added commas or colons after each question but then there is the dilemma of the final period. What is the correct way?

  • Hello, Lisa. This may be closed as being 'primarily opinion based'. And that may well be the best answer. FWIW, I'd do exactly the same as you do here, but would only use the inverted commas to show 'verbatimicity' if necessary, as I think you are doing. (I almost always use double inverted commas to show verbatim quotes and speech.) The inverted commas contain the actual quote, and the question marks belong with them, but the question marks also do 'dual duty' as separators (which, as commas or full stops, would normally be put outside the inverted commas in 'BrE'). – Edwin Ashworth Jul 19 at 18:13
  • I would use italics rather than quotation marks. But that's entirely subjective. – Jason Bassford Jul 19 at 18:48
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You don't need quotation marks in the list.

The function of the quotation marks in your example 1 is to make sure the reader understands exactly where each question begins and end. Because your list has a numbered item on each line, there is no confusion. If this were a publication, an editor would take them out straightaway.

Similarly, you don't need semi-colons after each question as they already have question marks. Nor do you need a period after the third question, as this final question mark serves as the end of the sentence and list.

If you want to make sure it's understood that these are the exact words spoken by the patient you could add that they are verbatim. But unless there was potential ambiguity around the question I don't see why that should be necessary.

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