Quotations and attributions

In nearly every type of writing, it becomes necessary to incorporate another person’s thoughts or words into your content. There are a number of ways to do this.

Again, these conventions probably aren’t something your audience could recite back to you. But your audience subconsciously (at the very least) expects a certain visual impression when they read someone else’s words in your writing. The conventions that follow are meant to make the transition between speakers as smooth as possible for your audience. What your content says is important, but just as important is making clear who said what.

The direct quotation is probably what you imagine when you think about a “quotation.” Here’s how to use one.

Step one: The setup. Have something (anything!) in the preceding paragraph or sentence to suggest that what follows will be something other than the author’s narrative or research.

But some scientists have raised concerns about the validity of Oswald’s research. 

Step two: Pruning.  Make sure you’re using the meatiest part of the quotation. The scientist you interviewed might have mentioned his wife and kids in answering your question about Oswald’s research, but you won’t want to use that. Instead, make sure you’re using the sentences, even the sentence fragments, that answer the question you indicated you plan to answer in step one.

Instead of using Boy, let me just start off by saying that Oswald sure is a real jerk. He smells bad, and he has poor fashion sense. Also, his methods have been proved faulty in countless other studies. It’s difficult to believe that his latest “proof” of Bigfoot’s existence has any more credibility than his since-debunked claim to having discovered the Loch Ness Monster.

Consider just using: His methods have been proved faulty in countless other studies. It’s difficult to believe that his latest “proof” of Bigfoot’s existence has any more credibility than his since-debunked claim to having discovered the Loch Ness Monster.

Step three: Formatting. Now you’ve identified the relevant content, it’s time to go about formatting it. Take the above sentence and follow these steps:

You’ll want to put it in quotes. That should be a no-brainer. Remember to change the quotation marks (provided by the source) around the word “proof” to single quotes since they’re now inside double quotation marks.

“His methods have been proved faulty in countless other studies. It’s difficult to believe that his latest ‘proof’ of Bigfoot’s existence has any more credibility than his since-debunked claim to having discovered the Loch Ness Monster.”

Step four: Attribution.

Great. Now, the scientist we asked about these claims is named Archibald Barnsworth, associate professor of Sasquatch studies at State University. Let’s add that in.

“His methods have been proved faulty in countless other studies,” said Archibald Barnsworth, associate professor of Sasquatch studies at State University. “It’s difficult to believe that his latest ‘proof’ of Bigfoot’s existence has any more credibility than his since-debunked claim to having discovered the Loch Ness Monster.” 

Notice that the attribution cuts the quotation in half, roughly. Especially with quotations a sentence or longer, and even in some long one-sentence quotationas, try to stick the attribution sort of in the middle. It’s a helpful reminder about halfway through the quotation that someone else is speaking. By the time you reach the end of a long quotation, you might have forgotten the quotation marks that began it.

In all subsequent quotations of Barnsworth’s, the attribution will look different. Because he’s been introduced, it will be sufficient from now on to simply use “Barnsworth said.” The word “said” only precedes the name if you plan on adding a clause explaining your source’s identity (e.g., “associate professor of Sasquatch studies”) afterward.

Oh, and I forgot to mention: We weren’t able to meet up with Barnsworth on such short notice, so he sent us an email. Make sure to mention how your information is gathered. If you’re quoting a statement released by a company or team’s PR department, remember to tack on “said in a statement released this morning” to your attribution. If you’re especially proud of an interview with a source, you can add “…said in an exclusive interview with The Herald.” Here’s what our final quotation looks like. Note that I’ve moved things around in the attribution to add the email detail.

“His methods have been proved faulty in countless other studies,” Archibald Barnsworth, associate professor of Sasquatch studies at State University, said in an email. “It’s difficult to believe that his latest ‘proof’ of Bigfoot’s existence has any more credibility than his since-debunked claim to having discovered the Loch Ness Monster.” 

 

 

 

Posted in Editorial Style, Grammar Diaries

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