Smart quotes are double or single inverted commas, used for marking quotes and apostrophes when writing. They slant or curl to the right or left, unlike dumb quotes which are straight.
Don’t use dumb quotes for quotations or apostrophes—the nerds will revolt.
I’ve recently started forcing myself to type smart quotes wherever possible (yes, even when texting my Mum).
It may sound over the top, but I think that the best way to make fewer errors is to keep a high standard whenever I write. As a designer it’s my job to spot punctuation errors, typos and any other mistakes in a body of text. Even though I may not be the copywriter, I would consider it to be my fault if something was published with an error.
Asking someone to change the kind of quote mark that they use in a piece of text often raises a few eyebrows. It can seem pedantic to even the most experienced designers, developers and copywriters.
Still, my view is that using the right mark is as important as having punctuation marks there in the first place.
As a minimum, I think it’s worth keeping an eye out for which quotes are being used. Some programs will automatically update dumb quotes to smart quote and others will not. When lots of people are working on the same piece of text together, inconsistencies can creep in that will undermine the overall quality of a project.
(The nerds are watching.)
Disclaimer: I don’t see a massive problem with choosing to use dumb quotes for stylistic reasons, as long as it’s considered and consistent.
If you’d like to read more about smart quotes and how to use them, check out these resources…