In my research, I interview practitioners/real users. One of them, a native english speaker, used a lot a swear words (basically the f-word).

Question: how to deal with curse words in content you need to quote?

Since I use transcripts for a content (and not formal) analysis, I sometime 'smooth' interviewee wordings (like removing "hum", "well", "you know", and other recurring verbal tics). In some case, I could remove the f-word:

it's just super f*cking slow, and really f *cking annoying

However, in some cases it is less harmless, because it more deeply changes the perceived meaning:

if you don't want to do things, just don't f*cking do it

oh f *ck, we'll just go back to do, as we were doing

and in some other, I simply cannot change interviewee's words:

[...] he really tried and wanted to build up, but he completely f*cked up every single part of every single thing.

Since I am not a native speaker, I don't know how "bad" would using the f-word be perceived (which is why I tried to be careful here.)

In some cases, I could do a cut quote, e.g. "it's just super [...] slow, and really [...] annoying", but it looks like I'm not accurately depicting the wordings.

I've also seen on the internet people using 'f*ck' standing for the f-word. Could this be a solution? (I personally find this solution a bit prudish.)

Otherwise, could I simply quote them? Should I put a warning somewhere?


4 Answers 4


If you're quoting someone, quote them as they said it. We're all adults. In the literature world, we quote swear words and other potentially offensive things all the time and no one bats an eye. I've no doubt other fields are the same.

Personally, if I saw an asterisk or similar, I would presume you interviewed them via chat or email, and they actually self-censored. If it were a printed text, I'd think it a part of the edition you used.

  • 5
    @JDługosz it's possible in academia to be not yet be adults, but I think we can confidently say that 99.9% or more are. I would imagine the same could be said of the average person reading a research paper. If a non-adult were to be reading (or writing) such a paper, they're probably at the very least mature enough to handle it. Commented Nov 13, 2016 at 22:35
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    @JDługosz Anyone mature enough to read a paper in a journal is mature enough to read the word fuck, regardless of age. Commented Mar 12, 2017 at 13:19

In research, you should quote them verbatim. Editing, or censoring, swearing is wrongly representing your research subjects and is thus a form of scientific misconduct. If you need to edit the quote for specific audience you must make it clear that you have done so:

It's just so [obscenity] slow, it really [obscenities] me off.

With a note saying that you have edited the text to remove swear words. Partial censorship such as you used above (e.g. f*ck, c*nt) is both utterly pointless and misleading; either completely remove the word (indicating where you have done so) or quote properly:

It's just so fucking annoying; it really fucks me off.

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    And as it should already be absolutely clear what's a direct quote and what isn't, no-one should get the impression that your academic writing style involves liberal use of swearwords.
    – Chris H
    Commented Nov 11, 2016 at 9:24
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    I was always wondering why the word "fstarck" was abbreviated as "f*ck". With this answer so many texts I read came under a new light... (on the serious side +1 in the name of sanity)
    – WoJ
    Commented Nov 11, 2016 at 15:30
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    @WoJ: for those knowing a bit of German f*ck could stand for Frühstück (breakfast) :-) Commented Nov 13, 2016 at 14:22
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    @LorenzoDonati, I think the most similar abbreviation for Frühstück you could get to which still makes sense would be Frstk. (Stk. is an acceptable abbreviation for the word Stück) --- cf. a website for a bed and breakfast in Warnemünde: 2 P. Frstk. u. TG 325,00 € (lit. "two persons breakfast and meal du jour €325.00"); Sorry to rain on your parade. Commented Nov 13, 2016 at 14:52
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    @errantlinguist I should have added a disclaimer to that comment: "Not necessarily a linguistically-correct German abbreviation" :-D Commented Nov 13, 2016 at 14:59

I'm a history student currently working with oral history. You should not smooth anything on a transcript — when quoting you should do exactly as said or written. There are certain ways to indicate that something is a grammar mistake or a phonetic(?) transcription to clarity that there's no mistake on your part; usually those things are put in foot notes.

I'll edit this later to give you some resources for that, but for now if you put any notes make sure to do it as a footnote. You can use the brackets too, they indicate some comment of the author outside the context of the quote.

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    One very strong argument for not censoring is that what we consider obscene is very much time and place dependent.
    – gerrit
    Commented Nov 11, 2016 at 10:56
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    Are the mentioned resources coming at some point, or should that part be edited away from the answer?
    – Tommi
    Commented Feb 19, 2019 at 10:05

If this is for publication, check with the editor.

If this is for a working (non-published) paper that you, and perhaps som collaborators, will be working with, then you get to decide, based on subjective considerations, such as, will it be irritating for you to read the f-word 200 times a day? If so, you are free to choose a euphemism.

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