A site visitor writes:
Is it acceptable to emphasize a point in an email with quotes? For example: The people on the Board are “elected” not appointed.
Anything you can do to ensure your intent and the meaning of your comments come through as intended is okay. However, you may be leaving room for interpretation when taking the above approach.
Quotation marks as you are using them are usually used to highlight a word that is being used in an unusual manner. In particular when you want to indicate irony, inaccuracy, or skepticism. Quotation marks used in this manner are referred to as scare quotes.
I bet you never heard of scare quotes! Scare quotes are quotation marks used before and after a word or phrase to show that the word or phrase is unusual or perhaps not accurate.
The Chicago Manual of Style describes scare quote use as follows:
Quotation marks are often used to alert readers that a term is used in a nonstandard (or slang), ironic, or other special sense. Such scare quotes imply “This is not my term” or “This is not how the term is usually applied.” Like any such device, scare quotes lose their force and irritate readers if overused.
More from Wikipedia:
Writers use scare quotes for a variety of reasons. Scare quotes are used to imply an element of doubt or ambiguity regarding the words or ideas within the marks, or even outright contempt. They can indicate that a word or phrase is being purposely misused or that the writer isn’t persuaded by what is being said, and they can allow the writer to deny responsibility for what is being reported. In general, they express distance between the writer and the quoted words.
The scare quotes here might indicate that the word is not one the writer would normally use, or that the writer has an opinion that there is something dubious about the idea of groupies or its application to these people. The exact meaning of the scare quotes is not clear without further context.
Email Emphasis Can be Tricky
In your example I would take the use of quotes to mean that there may be some question in how they were elected or about the election — the sarcasm angle.
While you can use scare quotes as you noted, I don’t think the above is the best example of how to indicate emphasis which is what you are looking for. Generally, putting words in quotes indicates the words are either a) an actual quote or b) noting a bit of sarcasm.
Emphasis in plain text can be tricky. Sarcasm should be avoided if possible as it is subjective and open to interpretation by the other side.
What I do for emphasis is use forward slashes, for example:
It is not that I don’t care, it is that I care /too much/.
Now you know what scare quotes are and how to use them. Not too scary, right?
Have a question you want me to cover in a future post, feel free to submit your questions, here!