The Volokh Conspiracy

Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent

Fixing Straight Quotes in Word Documents

Law review editors and lawyers, take note.


Most professional printed materials use curly quotes (including apostrophes) rather than straight quotes. We can debate whether that's a good idea, but it's the norm for printed text; check out the typical newspaper, book, or printed court opinion.

Microsoft Word (and doubtless other word processors) lets you automatically format single and double quotes as curly instead of straight as you type. (If it's not on for you automatically, go to File / Options / Proofing / AutoCorrect As You Type / AutoFormat As You Type / Replace as you type "Straight quotes" with "smart quotes," at least in Word 365.) Once you turn that on, you can also do a bulk search-and-replace of ' with ' and then of " with ", and the replacement will automatically curl the quotes.

That auto-formatting is imperfect: For instance, if you want to type "'abc'" for nested quotes, as legal style sometimes requires, the opening single quote will be misdirected. But it's not hard to fix it up (e.g. leave a space between the opening double quote and the opening single quote, so Word will direct both the right way, and then delete the space). By the way, if you ever want to have straight quotes in a document without turning off the "smart quote" feature altogether, just hit ctrl-Z (undo) after you type the quote and Word curls it; that will undo the curling.

But sometimes, especially when you copy and paste from outside sources, some straight quotes make their way into the document. Having a mix of straight quotes and curly quotes looks sloppy; but a manual proofread often won't catch that.

What can you do? You can do that bulk search-and-replace of ' with ' and of " with ", but remember that this might undo any manual corrections you've made. Instead, you can replace only the straight quotes, without touching the curly quotes:

  1. Go to the Replace dialog in Word (via ctrl-H).
  2. Check the "Use wildcards" box.
  3. Replace ^034 with " (probably using Find Next / Replace several times, just so you can see everything that's being fixed, and make sure there are no glitches; but you can also just take a gamble on Replace All).
  4. Replace ^039 with ' .
  5. Uncheck the Use wildcards box, and run a dummy replacement (e.g., of text that doesn't appear in your file), so that "Use wildcards" will be turned off after that.

The cognoscenti among you might have recognized that 34 is the (decimal) ASCII character code for a double quotation mark, and 39 is the ASCII character code for a single quotation mark. ^034 and ^039 in wildcards mode refers just to the pure straight ASCII quotes, and not to the curly quotes, which have their own codes.