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Use quotes to make a point, not to tell the complete story, and to add information, not merely repeat it. Avoid using quotes to convey basic, factual information. Use them to show your conversation with sources, but not as a substitute for your analysis about what sources have told you. Especially in an investigation, it is important to use the exact words people gave you.

The exceptions are:

  • >   What someone has said is hard to understand, or holds them up to ridicule and does not add to the ‘flavour’ of speech.
  • >   Profanities and obscenities if your publication does not permit these.
  • >   Filler words like, ‘look’, ‘you know’, ‘I think’. They are unnecessary; they add nothing.

Attribute all quotes carefully and provide a source’s citation for anything you did not observe yourself. In an investigative story, you have to be even more careful than usual about attribution, because readers will judge the worth of your evidence partly by its source. Also make clear where a new speaker enters your story. If, for some reason, you cannot attribute, explain why: ‘The company would fire me if they knew I had shown you this,’ said the interviewee.

Keep in mind when using quotes to ensure that you select and introduce them properly:

  • >   The line preceding a quote should help the reader understand what is coming next.
  • >   Your introduction to the quote should build toward the same message.
  • >   Quotes add value; do not choose sources’ direct words that add nothing, and do not be repetitive
  • >   Stick with “he/she said” to describe speech. Other words (‘asserted’; ‘claimed’; ‘argued’) may add unnecessary spin, or (‘refuted’, ‘rebutted’) may be misunderstood by readers. Only when you are sure it is accurate can you use a term that adds flavour.
  • >   When you paraphrase, do not spin. Keep the sense and tone of the original source. If the spokesperson says ‘We do not have a budget,’ do not paraphrase into, ‘She said her company was not prepared to spend on this,’ which implies attitude, not merely the financial situation.