LawProse Lesson #302: Quotations: Unnoted corrections.
Is it ever permissible to fix a trivial mistake in a quotation without noting it in your citation? Less so in legal writing than in other types—as most legal writers would insist. Some nonlegal style manuals do allow writers to silently correct obvious errors such as missing periods, unclosed parentheses, or misspellings. For example, The Chicago Manual of Style allows writers to change, without note, a capital on the first word of a quotation to lowercase, or to change a lowercase letter to a capital. In law this practice is avoided, as the Chicago Manual explicitly notes. It’s an unwise practice because it could put your credibility in question. Yet a certain degree of regularization to house style is allowed even in law. Seven circumstances are most common: (1) double quotation marks can be changed to single, or vice versa, with a quote within a quote; (2) punctuation relative to quotation marks should be adjusted—for example, the British system to American, or vice versa; (3) double hyphens can be turned into a full dash; (4) curly quotes can be imposed in place of straight ones; (5) en-dashes can be changed to hyphens, or hyphens to en-dashes, if the source material has printed them incorrectly; (6) the antiquated long s (looking like an f) should certainly be regularized to s (hence an 18th-century passage reading the kindnefs of your afsuaging words becomes the kindness of your assuaging words); and (7) foreign forms of the question mark or quotation marks (such as « ») should be replaced. That’s the tradition. But next week: “cleaned-up” quotations followed by a “cleaned-up” citation.