1.2.1. Using quotes

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, to add colour to your story, but not as a substitute for your analysis about what sources have told you. 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 add nothing.

Attribute all quotes and cite a source for observations you did not make. 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 name a source, explain why. For example: “The company would fire me if they knew I had shown you this,” said the interviewee.

Here are some tips on how to use quotes:

  • >   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.
  • >   Stick with “he/she said” to describe speech. Some words (‘asserted’; ‘claimed’; ‘argued’) may add unnecessary spin, while others (‘refuted’, ‘rebutted’) may be misunderstood by readers. Only when you are sure it is accurate can you use a verb 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 the budget for this”, do not paraphrase until it becomes, “She said her company was not prepared to spend on this”, which implies a certain set of priorities, not merely a financial situation.