This is the seventh in a series of posts to address common issues with my suggestions for how writers can improve their manuscripts before turning them over to agents, editors, and the many other individuals involved in the process of turning a manuscript into a book.
#7 Removing scare quotes and single quotes used to emphasize words and phrases and italicizing the text instead
The Chicago Manual of Style uses the term scare quotes to refer to double quotes used “to alert readers that a term is used in a nonstandard (or slang), ironic, or other special sense.” (CMS 16th edition, Section 7.55). Some consider the quotes indicate the author means to refer to the word as so-called. CMS advises authors to be aware that using quotes to emphasize words and phrases in this way may irritate readers.
When I edit the work of others, I reserve the use of double quotes for instances when a character speaks.
Another common style I have found in the works of others is the use of single quotes for emphasis. Since CMS restricts use of single quotes to instances of quoted material within text already enclosed within double quotes, I choose to use italics to emphasize words and phrases instead of using single quotes as well.
When I edit the work of others, I choose to put the words or phrases in italics for emphasis in place of single or double quote marks. If this results in what appears to be too much italicized text, I review every italicized word or phrase to determine if the emphasis is necessary.