Using quote marks isn’t hard, but you will have to know a few rules.
Rule 1: Doubles vs. Singles
In the US, the only time single quote marks are used is when you have a quote within a quote (which is extremely rare in technical writing). All other times, the double quote marks are in use. Thus, if you are writing in the US or for a US-based company, it is the safest habit to use double quote marks.
We know that you will likely see single quote marks used often. For US uses, single quote usage is often wrong. See the last section of this page, however, for more on international use.
Rule 2: Punctuation on the inside
In the United States, put the punctuation mark INSIDE the quote mark. Below are some examples.
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The Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement of 1987 has a goal of zero discharge, stating “The discharge of toxic substances in toxic amounts be prohibited and the discharge of any or all persistent toxic substances be virtually eliminated.”
The fans that force flue gas out of a boiler also pull what is called “fly ash” along with the rest of the hot gaseous “exhaust.”
Rule 3: With exclamations or questions
To use a question mark or an exclamation point with a sentence that ends in a quotation, follow logic to determine punctuation placement. There are two sub-rules here:
Rule 2a: If it is part of the quotation itself, put it inside the quotation marks.
We asked management “How are we capturing the knowledge base with this project?”
Rule 2b: If it governs the sentence as a whole but not the material being quoted, put it outside the quotation marks.
How are we to maximize “functionality”?
Rule 4: With citations
With APA and IEEE citation formats, the punctuation waits until after the citation.
Example for APA:
Over the next year, analysts from Citigroup and Goldman Sachs expect coal prices to increase 98%, citing “extreme tightness as global supply growth struggles to keep up with Asian demand” (Reuters, 2008).
Example for IEEE:
Over the next year, analysts from Citigroup and Goldman Sachs expect coal prices to increase 98%, citing “extreme tightness as global supply growth struggles to keep up with Asian demand” .
Rule 5: US versus global rules
In the US, we use double quote marks. The only time to use single quote marks is when there is a quote within a quote (quite a rarity in technical communication).
A note about international usage
Outside of the US, writers tend to place commas and periods logically rather than conventionally, depending on whether the punctuation belongs to the quotation or to the sentence that contains the quotation. Wikipedia actually has a decent explanation of this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quotation_marks#Punctuation
More conversation on it here: http://www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-pun1.htm