Altering Quotes and Using Sic

About [sic]

[sic] signifies that a word is quoted exactly as stated in the original, despite an obvious error.

The main [sic] rule: Only use [sic] if there is a reason to preserve and point out the error (so that the reader doesn’t assume author or editor error). You do not want [sic] to be distracting or petty, but it can be a judgment call.

Always set [sic] as shown, with sic in italics, inside nonitalic brackets.

Ellson described it as “working for hours in the most inhuman maner [sic].”

Lucas added, “We set the offerings on the alter [sic] and stood silently.” 

Use [sic] sparingly

Avoid [sic] in the following cases. Instead, mention the issue in a surrounding text or a note. (See 16: 13.59 or 17: 13.61.)

If you are preserving multiple spelling errors for a reason (being true to the original historical source, etc.), or if there are enough errors that [sic] would be distracting, mention the issue in the surrounding text, a footnote, or the book’s preface instead, e.g.:

“The following passage contains its original spelling and grammar.”

“The editors have preserved the original spelling and grammar of the diaries featured in this book.”

“Smith wrote the following (original spelling preserved):”

One [sic] at its first appearance is enough if the same error is repeated.

No need to [sic] old-fashioned spellings such as “waggon” or British spellings such as “analyse.” You may mention it in the surrounding text or footnote instead—or ignore it altogether.

To avoid appearing petty and judgmental:

Common grammar errors in a quote can usually be ignored unless they are distracting or misleading.

If there is no reason to preserve the error, there is no need to point it out. If it’s simply mistyped, misspoken, etc., you may correct it silently. It will be a judgment call based on your source and purpose.

If you mention that you are quoting a tweet, text, social media post, or other informal item, there is no need for [sic] unless the error is distracting or misleading.

Try to be helpful and clarify when needed.

If it’s difficult to discern what the [sic] is for, or if it’s not immediately obvious what the correct word should be, or if the misspelling is especially confusing, add a correction in brackets.

“Joseph Engels [Ingalls] was appointed captain of our company.”

“We left the Winn River [Wind River] at noon.”

“The front windows faced Oak Street [later renamed Keller Drive].”

“We left Texas around 1897 [actually 1899] with our two young sons.”

“We tried to assartin [ascertain] what they wanted.”

If you are not sure, or if you would like to offer a helpful attempt at translation, use a question mark within your brackets, or indicate if it is illegible. (17: 13.59)

“We took the icsminschewer [?] but we found no more.”

“We found it in all its galorsness [gloriousness?] and stopped.”

“They gave us their . . . [illegible] and rode away.”

Altering Quotations

Wording in a quotation should be reproduced exactly, but the following changes are permissible to make the passage fit the syntax and format of the surrounding text, and to conform to CMS. (CMS vol. 16 and 17: 13.7–8)

Quotation marks

1. Change single quotation marks to double and vice versa as needed.

2. Change straight quotation marks and apostrophes to smart (curly) quotation marks and apostrophes.

3. Foreign quotation marks such as guillemets may be changed to regular quotation marks.

Capitalization

4. Change initial letter of quote to capital or lowercase to fit the sentence (see 17: 13.18–21 for guidelines).

5. Change ALL CAPS to regular sentence-style capitalization.

Note: But if all caps must be preserved for some reason, ask press for guidance—they will likely ask you to set it in small caps instead, which involves retyping it in sentence case, then applying Word’s “small caps” format.

Punctuation

6. Change hyphens to em dashes or en dashes per CMS, and remove spaces on either side.

7. Change final period to a comma when needed.

8. May omit punctuation where an ellipsis is used.

9. Footnote and endnote references may be added or omitted. If you need to keep an original note with a quote, best to set off entire quote as a block quote, with the note in smaller type at the end. Or summarize the note in your text.

Spelling and grammar

10. See About [sic] section above. You may correct obvious typos and grammatical errors without using [sic].

11. In historic documents, the archaic Latin esh may be changed to s. Same with a V used in place of U.

Formatting

12. Change underlines to italics, unless preserving the underline is necessary.

13. Change font to match the rest of your text. This includes changing bold, all-caps, or italics that don’t have any purpose beyond decoration. To indicate emphasis, change bold or all caps to italics instead.

14. In plays, etc., names of speakers can be moved to flush left instead of centered.

15. If quoting a letter, you may adjust paragraph indention and position of salutation and signature.

Altering a Previously Published Work

You may change these things. (16: 2.41, 17: 2.44)

1. Renumber notes.

2. Remove cross-references to parts of the original work that are not relevant.

3. Correct obvious typos and grammatical errors that are not necessary to preserve. If they need to be preserved, you may use [sic] if needed. But for many errors, leave them alone but mention it in the surrounding text, a note, or the book’s preface. See About [sic] section above.

Altering Titles of Works

See my post Titles: Capitalization and Alterations.

Source: Chicago Manual of Style 2.41, 8.163, 13.7, 13.8, 14.96, 14.97, 14.106.

Comma or colon before a quote?

Use a comma after verbs like said, replied, asked, writes. You can use a colon in these situations if the quote is long, but do this sparingly. (13.18)

He replied, “That’s nice.” (13.18)

Use a colon with “as follows,” “thus,” and the like, and where syntax calls for it. (6.63, 13.17)

Smith wrote the following the next day: “I can’t go on.”

Jackson had a more positive response: “This shall make us stronger.”

No punctuation needed before that, if, whether, and similar conjunctions. (6.50)

Lewis found that “thin cables won’t hold a darn thing.”

No punctuation needed before quote fragments that are arranged to fit into the sentence context. (13.11)

Walker was now “ready for business” and instructed the men to “wear heavy coats.”

Introduce block quotations with a colon if the wording is “as follows” or something similar. But with a period otherwise. (13.19)

Williams wrote these uplifting words in a letter to his sister:

I will return home next week. Block quotation, block quotation, etc.

Williams then wrote an uplifting letter to his sister.

I will return home next week. Block quotation, block quotation, etc.