Quotes and punctuation

protesting the murder of george floyd
Protesting the murder of George Floyd. Photo: Ted Eytan/CC/Flickr


Last week we practised our news writing skills. Each story we write ultimately improves our technique. There are many theories to master in the art of writing. Your job is to practice, practise, practice.

Undeniably when it comes to News Writing, the writer adopts the perspective of the invisible observer in order to present an objective point of view and avoid bias. But this doesn’t mean your stories should ever be dull. In fact there are many tools that the writer uses to breathe dynamism and momentum into a story. One important skill is the use of quotations, i.e. a transcription of what someone has said.

For example, Thomas Edison is credited with a famous quote about ingenuity and invention: Genius is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration. Here written as a quote:

“Genius is one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration,” said Thomas Edison.

As explained a quote is the written form of the words people have spoken. Quotes are shown surrounded by quotation marks, either single (‘) or double (“). The alternative to using a quote is to rewrite the sentence into what we call ‘reported speech’.

Whether writing a hard, soft, or human interest news, a quote makes an impact on your reader. But there is a need for caution!

If you need a recap check out Verity’s post: First steps: structuring a story. Here you will find an informative link to news writing by Associated Press’s writing guru Rene J. Cappon,  Writing Style [.ppt file]  AND important info on  Structure & Quotes [.ppt file]. You might find it helpful to save these on your computer so you have them for easy reference.

There are two kinds of quotes: direct and indirect

    • A direct quote is an exact transcription, word for word, of what a person said. You always put them within quotation marks.
    • An indirect quote, or paraphrasing, is faithful to the meaning of what a person said though the wording is not exactly the same. You don’t use quotation marks.

For a list of tips on handling quotes  -:

    1. Be truthful.
    2. Adding to quotes is dangerous.
    3. Be careful with slang.
    4. Be polite.
    5. Don’t blend quotes from different interviews
    6. When you quote, imagine that someone has taped the interview.
    7. Read the quote back to the source. Be guided by the golden rule here.
    8. Avoid echo quotes, ones that repeat the words that you just wrote.
    9. Begin with the idea that you can write it better than the source can say it. When that is not the case, use the quote.
    10. Only use the best part of the quote.
    11. Choose quotes in reports but dialogue in stories.
    12. Many of these tips apply to “sound bites” for television and “actualities” for radio.
    13. Remember how badly you were quoted as a source. Don’t do that.

A Reminder

Some media organisations choose not to conform to standard use of quotation marks. Ensure that you understand and conform to your editorial policy when using quotation mark in your news article.

  1. Try this: Quotation Mark Exercise and Answers
  2. Write a hard, soft, or human interest news, using:
    • a direct quote
    • an indirect quote
  1. Write a script with the intention of using an audio quote, aka a ‘grab’. This will require you to find an audio grab quote that you can use in the recording.

Author: veritychambers

Journalist and teacher

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