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st: apostrophes, quotation marks, left or right quotes?

From   Dirk Enzmann <>
Subject   st: apostrophes, quotation marks, left or right quotes?
Date   Mon, 25 Feb 2008 22:38:07 +0100

How does one produce left and right single quotes as they are used in Stata?

Meanwhile, I know the answer. But because I am using Stata only occasionally, every now and then I encounter typical beginners' problems. Thus, it took me a while to find the correct answer and I would like to comment on the difficulties hoping that this might improve the situation of other beginners having the same problem.

Although I searched in "An introduction to Stata ..." by Svend Juul, searched the release 9 "Getting started with Stata", [U] "User's Guide", and [P] "Programming", and searched the internet (FAQ, statalist), it took me more than half an hour to find the solution (ultimately by trial and error).

I think the difficulty is due to a combination or an accumulation of three things:
(1) I am using a non-English/American keyboard (German);
(2) The letter type used in printing (especially the Stata manuals!) makes it impossible to decide how the correct quote should look like on the screen;
(3) To find the answer you have to ask the correct question, but for non-English speakers it is difficult to find the denotation of the signs as used by the Stata community.

Let us start with the latter: In German we denote the signs "Hochkomma". Looking this up in a standard dictionary renders "apostrophe". Searching the indices of the manuals or the internet for "apostrophe" does not help. Next, I tried "quotation mark". But alas, ... You have to look for "left quote" or "right quote", but how should I know if I don't know the answer already?

Browsing through the pages of the a.m. books did not help. Every time I found examples using the quotes there were no indications on how to produce the quotes using my keyboard. The problem: In printing the left quote is a curved quote similar to a small round left bracket - similar to "(" -, the right quote curved like a right bracket ")". However, there are three different single quotes I can create with my keyboard: One "forward" quote (similar to the forward slash "/"): ||, one "backward" quote (similar to the backslash "\"): |`|, and one vertical quote (similar to the OR sign "|"): |'|. Why don't they use one of these in the printed manuals? Why? Everything would be so much easier!

Finally, after I solved the problem, I found the following exchange in the Stata list (thread "Help with Reading Arguments for Do-File" ): George wrote "Thanks, the quotation marks were indeed the source of the problem. Unfortunately, the manual does not make that clear." to which Nick (n.j. cox) responded: "Many people have been bitten by this at precisely your stage, but it is wrong to blame the manuals. I find at [U] 18.3.1 (p.200 of Stata 9 edition) that the key difference between left and right single quotes is explained when local macros are introduced."

To the contrary, it *is* the manuals to blame! If you read p. 200 of the Stata 9 edition you find: "... we use a left single-quote (located at the upper left on most keyboards), ... and a right single quote (located under the " on the right side of most keyboards)...". This description does not help at all if you are using a non-English/American keyboard! And what is more: In printing they always use the small "(" ")" quotes (forward-backward-curved), so that it is really *impossible* to recognize the correct quote. Why make it so difficult? Why not print it as it should look like? Why not *print* `shortcut' ?

On the German keyboard, I have to use the "accent grave" (thus, the apostrophe starting on the top left) for the left single quote, and for the right single quote I have to use the "common" single quote (the vertical quote you find above the #-sign on a German keyboard ;-) , see:

Ultimately, the best description I found in Svend Juuls "An Introduction to Stata ...":

"Hint: Producing the left single quote: In this book, the appearance of single quotes differs a bit from how they look on your keyboard and screen. Try 'help quotes' to see how they look on the screen. Keyboard layouts differ, and on some keyboards, the left single quote is produced by a dead key, meaning that nothing is produced until you hit the spacebar." (p. 269)

If it is impossible to print the quotes in the manuals as they look on the screen (and on the keyboard) - please, take over Svend Juuls exemplary description.

I hope that this lengthy comment helps future beginners and demystifies Nicks observation that "Many people have been bitten by this". Bites are necessary for computations but aren't helpful at all for learning.


Dr. Dirk Enzmann
Institute of Criminal Sciences
Dept. of Criminology
Schlueterstr. 28
D-20146 Hamburg

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