How quotes can make your written content crisper

Using direct quotes from relevant people can help boost the credibility factor of your articles and blog posts. But they are easy to get wrong. Here’s how to avoid that…

Just like references in academic writing, quotes add grunt whatever the writing styleProof-reading my son’s coursework for his Masters degree in marketing management recently, I suddenly had a thought about the principle of referencing in academic writing and how it can apply – in a far less turgid degree – to blogging and other content.

Even if you are a modern-day guru within your topic, it still helps to reinforce your own expert writing if you include a relevant quote from someone who is respected and well-known by your target readers. Or if not already known to them, quickly justified by you in your introduction to it.

Newspaper journalists regard quotes as their bread and butter to substantiate even the more frivolous of news and features stories. Depending on the publication concerned, you’ll often see headlines that bellow out something like …

“Drinking coffee increases your chance of getting eyebrow cancer by a massive 10 percent!”

…which is then substantiated by a quote from a Professor Joe Public of an obscure University in the BackOfBeyond who told us, “a recent study conducted at our University involving 5,000 women coffee drinkers has shown that women drinking more than nineteen 60 ml. cups of coffee per day are 10 percent more likely to develop cancer of the eyebrow within a 30 year period.”

The facts that a) that much coffee would drown most women never mind give them cancer and b) the risk of developing cancer of the eyebrow is infinitesimal and a 10 percent hike of that is infinitesimal too, do not get mentioned. Now of course this is a wicked exaggeration; but the quote from an academic makes even this utter garbage feel a bit more plausible.

So how do we use quotes effectively – and realistically?

Here are some pointers you may find helpful the next time a quote or two would be useful for something you’re writing.

Quotes must be real. Yes, absolutely. No matter how cleverly a quote is put together, if it’s phony, it will look and feel phony. You must have seen press releases written by second-rate PR consultancies where the CEO is quoted as saying some pompous and largely irrelevant line like “we are proud to say that our company now ranks as one of the most admired in Blahtown for its philanthropic ethos and passion for the environment” when their business is supplying and emptying septic tanks. Unless you’re using off-the-peg quotes by Abraham Lincoln or Winston Churchill, get them straight from the horse’s mouth.

Make the quote tell part of the story. Still bearing in mind the quote from that pompous CEO, it would have been a lot more useful if s/he had said something like “People often think of septic tanks as being dirty and ecologically unsound,” said PoopCo CEO, John Doe. “However in this locality where mains sewage is not universally available, providing an efficient and hygienic septic tank service to home and business owners is actually making a major contribution to pollution control and a safer, cleaner environment generally.”  

If you can’t get to interview your chosen quoter, ask them by email. Possibly because email invites people to be brief and succinct, you’ll find you often get better, more edgy quotes in response to a few well-phrased email questions than you would were you to chat with them face-to-face. This article goes into detail about obtaining interviews and quotes by email. It works, provided that you set it up right.

Avoid shoving famous quotes down your readers’ throats. We’ve all moaned and whined about the social media quote-lovers who fill up their timelines with vacuous quotes from celebrities, politicians, philosophers etc. that make you think, yeah right … it was all very well for you. The use of quotes in your content writing is like using strong piri-piri condiments: powerful as hell, but only in carefully small and selected doses. My own feeling is to avoid using the off-the-peg quotes you find from related websites and books unless they make a very valid (or very funny) point … and focus more on real quotes from real people who, preferably, are still alive and working in position that your readers will respect and admire for the right reasons.


About the author: Suzan St Maur


This article was first published on Suzan St Maur’s HowToWriteBetter.net … the largest all-genre writing site on the internet with more than 1,000 articles and tutorials on how to write better across 26 categories covering business, blogging and other content writing, social media, job search, academic writing, speeches – plus fiction, personal, music, poetry and much more.

This article was first published by Suzan St Maur

3 replies
  1. Bethany
    Bethany says:

    I didn`t get your advice “If you can’t get to interview your chosen quoter, ask them by email”. I have been searching for advices on using quotes on other web pages, but Essay Penguins that I trust published little different tips on how to improve an essay or an article, they wrote nothing about quotes. And as for my misunderstanding… should I ask successors of my quoter (if something was happened) on adding it to my paper?

  2. Suzan St Maur
    Suzan St Maur says:

    Hi Bethany – what I meant by that sentence is if you can’t get to conduct a face-to-face interview with the person you want a quote from, you can conduct the interview via email … whereby you pose the questions in your email to them, then they hit “reply” and write an answer underneath each of your questions in turn.

    Is that where the misunderstanding occurred? If not, please clarify what you need and I will answer that as well as I can.


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