Placing full stop correctly in academic writing

Where to place the period (full stop) – in academic writing

One of the most common errors in academic writing is related to the use of the period (or full stop) when a sentence ends with a quotation. 

Should the full stop be placed before or after the closing quotation mark? This is a very frequent question that academics and students ask themselves when writing an essay or a thesis/dissertation paper. 

In this short article, we will explain the rule on the usage of the full stop in this case in simple terms so that every student can know how to correctly use the full stop when the sentence ends with a quotation. 

Full stop inside 

The full stop should be placed before the closing quotation mark when the sentence quoted is a full grammatical sentence, i.e a sentence that can stand on its own and is complete. 

Let’s see an example to make things clearer. 

Rober (2000) argues that “social responsibility is an important aspect that has been researched by a large number of academics.” 

If you look at the sentence between the quotation marks, it is a complete sentence that can be taken away and separated from the broader sentence and can still stand on its own without problem. In this case, the full stop must come before the closing quotation mark. 

Social responsibility is an important aspect that has been researched by a large number of academics. 

Let's take another example:

Abraham (1989) said that “the phenomenon was subject to study by researchers.” 

Again, here the full stop or period should be placed before the end quotation mark because the sentence is a full and grammatical sentence. 

Now let’s look at this example: 

Abraham said that the “phenomenon was subject to study by researchers”. 

The full stop here is placed after the end quotation mark because technically the sentence quoted cannot stand on its own: it is not a grammatical complete sentence. 

In this example, the article “the” was taken away, thus making the sentence incomplete. 

Full stop outside 

When the sentence is not complete and cannot grammatically stand alone, the full stop or period must be placed outside the quotation marks. 

Let’s exemplify: 

Hadi (2008) addressed the topic in a study described by some researchers as “ground-breaking and promising”. 

The quoted sentence here is incomplete and certainly cannot stand alone. That is why the full stop must come outside the quotation marks.

Note: This article explained where the full stop or period should be placed at the end of a sentence ending with a quotation in academic writing according to British English usage.

In American English, it is the exact opposite: the full stop is placed outside when the sentence is complete and inside when the sentence is incomplete. 

Martin E. is an English proofreading UK-based expert