Adding direct quotations to your secret shopper reports provides a level of detail that will be appreciated by the mystery shopping company and the client. Which of the following do you think is better?
Maria smiled and said, “Welcome to Buck’s Steak House. Would you like to start with an appetizer? The Potato Poppers are delicious.”
Maria greeted me and smiled.
Pretty obvious, isn’t it? But what about those pesky punctuation marks? Do periods and commas go inside the quotation marks, or outside? What about question marks and exclamation points? And should you capitalize what is contained within the quotation marks? None of these will be a problem for you, once you understand a few basic rules.
Using quotation marks indicates that you are recounting exactly what was said. So, for example, you would not use quotation marks in the following sentence: Jack greeted us and asked if we would like a menu. If you repeat exactly what Jack said, you would use quotation marks. Let’s take a look at how that might be written.
Jack said, “Good evening. Would you like to see a menu?”
In fiction, the attribution often comes at the end or in the middle of the quotation: “Good evening,” Jack said, his smoky brown eyes staring deeply into my soul, “Would you like to see a menu?” Uh, that is probably not such a good idea for a mystery shop report. Keep it simple and objective, and lead with the attribution so that the reader knows who is speaking.
Put a comma and a space immediately before the quotation. Use double quotation marks (“). Single quotation marks (‘) are used for quotations within quotations, something that rarely comes up in a shop report.
Begin the quotation with a capital letter if it is a sentence. If what you are quoting is only a phrase, do not capitalize it. For example: I asked about the fish specials, and Bernard said the tilapia was, “not very fresh.”
Punctuation almost always goes inside the quotation marks. If the quotation ends the sentence, the period goes inside the quotation marks: Suzie said, “Thank you for shopping with us today.” That is also true for question marks and exclamation points, if they are part of the quotation. For example: Dave asked, “Would you like the extended warranty?”
Exclamation points and question marks go outside of the quotation marks if they apply to the overall sentence, rather than specifically to the quotation. This should rarely, if ever, occur in a mystery shop report. An example of this type of punctuation would be: Who said I should “stop obsessing over a silly punctuation mark”? In this case, the quotation is not a question, but the sentence is.
If the quotation does not end the sentence use a comma (not a period) at the end of the quotation, just before the closing quotation marks: The hostess said, “Enjoy your meal,” and introduced our server.
When the quotation consists of more than one sentence, punctuate each sentence appropriately. For example: Denise said, “Did you find everything you needed? I can check you out on this register.” In this case, I am quoting two sentences from Denise, one a question and one a statement. The same would apply if both were questions or both were statements: Denise said, “Thank you for shopping with us today. Please come back soon.”
It may seem complicated, but here is a simple summary:
Start the quotation by indicating who is speaking.
Put a comma and a space before the first quotation mark.
The first letter of a quotation should be capitalized if you are quoting a full sentence.
The period (or comma), question mark or exclamation point that ends the quotation almost always goes inside the closing quotation mark.
Follow these simple rules to add quotations to your mystery shop reports correctly. Editors will love you.