By Gregg

Deciding what to quote and what not to quote is a key decision. Good quotes add colour and emotion to a story. Good quotes can effectively break up a series of reporter-driven paragraphs by adding a human voice that complements the story.

But beware these pitfalls of quotes:

  • The person said something so I have to quote them!: You’re not obligated to quote someone for the sake of quoting them. If they’ve said something useful, then use it. If not, move on.
  • Kill those two-bit quotes: We’ve all seen that all-time favourite two-bit quote at one time or another: “It was fun.” If someone says something is fun, find out why it’s fun. You might get a worthwhile quote.
  • One-bit quotes: These can become a lazy way of quoting someone, without getting full quotes. Mr. Johnson said Harvey was a “fantastic” man and could “really throw” a baseball. Well, readers would surely love to know why Harvey was “fantastic” and what it means that he could “really throw” a baseball.
  • Starting a story with a quote: Yes, it can be done. But it’s far better to save this method for that one or two times in your career when you’ve got a very very very special quote. Rarely, do we ever get quotes that merit starting the story. It’s an easy way to start a story and that’s why it’s used far too often with quotes that mean little to readers or capture their interest.
  • Quote overload: Beware smothering your story with people all saying the same thing. If a source says something that genuinely adds to the story, OK. But if they’re just saying the same thing as someone else, think twice.
  • The anti-said: “. . . . . . . ,” reported Bob. Beware what words you are using when you deviate from said. A word such as ‘reported’ implies that someone, on their own initiative, has given you information. If you’re interviewing someone, it’s an interview . . . not a scenario where the person is reporting something to you.  
  • The information quote: If it’s information then use it as such. “We have six days left to receive applications and so far we’ve had 435 people respond to our ad.” You don’t need a quote to transmit this information to your readers. This kind of stuff is the Poly-Filla of your story. It fills gaps and plugs holes with basics facts and five Ws.