Friday, April 23, 2010

Weekly writing coach: Quote boosters

If you put words in others' mouths in the form of quotes--for news releases, statements or articles--be forewarned (and share this with your media relations colleague):  Quotes are getting big play on Google News, where you can now find pull quotes nestled among search results.  (To find the display, shown above, click on the green phrase "all 1,304 news articles" at the end of the compiled search results. After the first two or three stories, you'll see a quote pulled from the coverage and highlighted as shown.

I've already shared tips on hearing voices--the art of capturing another's voice for quotes or speeches.  But any quote worth its salt also needs to go through these quick tests before you hit "send" or "print":
  • Cut out the throat-clearing:  "We here at the nation's largest nonprofit devoted to solving our terrible housing crisis know the mortgage crisis isn't over by a long shot" is not a quote.  "We know the mortgage crisis isn't over by a long shot" is.  Put the honorifics, throat-clearing and other Christmas-tree decorations elsewhere in your text (or in the recycling bin).  That kind of polishing winds up looking like you put too much wax on the car.
  • Look at the quote out of context:  Right before you make it final, look at the quote with no other copy surrounding it.  Can it stand on its own? Do you see something you didn't notice with all the surrounding text? Fix as needed.
  • Read it out loud, like you mean it:  If it doesn't flow out loud, it won't fly on paper.  Quotes should sound like a real person said them.  Anything else is throat-clearing.
Working with a real utterance?  Make sure you pare it accordingly, but the same tests apply. Those three tests can mean the difference between a quote that gets used and one that's ignored...in which case, it took up too much space. Make your quotes earn their keep, and I'll keep an eye out for them in Google News.

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