April 28, 2017

Quotes on quotations

What writers and others say

“Most quotes in press releases sound like the teacher in Charlie Brown cartoons: ‘Wah wah wah wah.'”
— A frustrated PR pro

“What is the use of a book without pictures or conversations?”
— Alice in Alice in Wonderland

“LAQs: A publicist’s worst nightmare: Lame-ass quotes. In a sound bite world, the last thing you want are LAQs”
BuzzWhack

“As long as there’s ‘he said’ and ‘she said.'”
— Anton Chekhov, Russian dramatist, when asked whether fiction had a future

“The language of journalism is not like speech, but it is closer to speech than most other forms of writing. This is what Kenner means in describing it as ‘populist.’ It also explains the journalistic obsession with quoting, the attempts to represent speech in prose. Too often, especially in government stories, this means experts speaking in code, or in meaningless sound bites.”
— Roy Peter Clark, vice president and senior scholar at The Poynter Institute

“The wisdom of the wise and the experience of the ages are perpetuated by quotations.”
— Benjamin Disraeli, a dandy, novelist, brilliant debater and England’s first and only Jewish prime minister

“Adding a quotation to a press release gives you an extra opportunity to gain relevance in the lives of the recipients. Unfortunately, most companies squander this opportunity by slapping quotation marks on either side of canned messaging.
“Credible? No. Compelling? No. Likely to induce the MEGO effect (My Eyes Glaze Over)? Yes.”
— Lauren Edwards, corporate writing coach for science and technology companies

“Have you ever watched people at a library selecting books for home reading? Other things being equal, if they see enough pages that … promise interesting dialogue, they are much more apt to put the book under their arm and walk away with it, than if they see too many solid pages … which always suggest hard work.”
— Rudolf Flesh, readability expert, in “A New Readability Yardstick”

“Quotes must be used carefully and sparingly. Using the wrong ones and/or too many weakens the fabric of a story and reduces even the best quotes to forgettable nothings.”
— Peter Jacobi, professor emeritus and Adjunct Riley Lecturer at the Indiana University School of Journalism

“A line of dialogue is not clear enough if you need to explain how it’s said.”
— Elmore Leonard, author of Get Shorty and 39 other novels

“She had a pretty gift for quotation, which is a serviceable substitute for wit.”
— W. Somerset Maugham, English playwright, novelist and short story writer

“The dialogue must express its own emotion and its own meaning. Don’t rely on the qualifiers — ‘he said angrily’ — to covey your speaker’s anger. Most times it should be obvious who is speaking. ‘He said’ should pace the dialogue, provide a beat and reinforce the meaning. The characters should sound different from the writer or narrator and from each other.”
— Donald M. Murray, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, in Writing to Deadline: The Journalist at Work

“Wise men make proverbs, but fools repeat them.”
— Samuel Palmer, British landscape painter, etcher and printmaker

“Business communicators publish the worst quotes in the industry — and we write them ourselves!”
— Mark Ragan, CEO of Ragan Communications

“Many people seem less quotable the higher they ascend in organizational life. Maybe frontline workers seem to say more interesting things in print because they don’t have anybody ghostwriting their comments.
“Worse still, when we ghost quotes for leaders, we aren’t satisfied with just one. He or she must say three or four things that don’t sound like a person talking, or that leave readers scratching their heads.”
— Chris Smith, Entergy Corp. editorial guru

“Other people’s words are the bridge you use to cross from where you were to wherever you’re going.”
— Zadie Smith, British novelist

“A witty saying proves nothing.”
— Voltaire, Enlightenment writer, historian and philosopher famous for his wit

“Corporate quotes are absolutely horrific — and getting worse all the time.”
— Jim Ylisela Jr., president of Duff Media Partners Inc.

“[Corporate quotes] make the people we’re quoting sound like pompous asses who have nothing to contribute to your story except to bring it to a halt and make people stop reading. Every corporate quote seems to say to the reader: ‘I’m in this story because my name has to be mentioned, but I don’t really have anything to add on this subject.'”
— Jim Ylisela, Jr., president of Duff Media Partners Inc.

“We spend so much time blaming the suits for talking like automatons (and they do), but we’re not doing them any favors. When it’s left to us, our quotes aren’t much better, and because they don’t actually come out of anyone’s mouth during a conversation, they’re often much worse.”
— Jim Ylisela, Jr., president of Duff Media Partners Inc.

“Bad quotes will destroy your story. You can’t hide them. They have those big honking quotation marks around them, announcing to every reader that someone is speaking.”
— Jim Ylisela, Jr., president of Duff Media Partners Inc.

“Readers pay more attention to quotes, because they want to hear from people directly, and when the result is babble and innocuous platitudes, they leave disappointed.”
— Jim Ylisela, Jr., president of Duff Media Partners Inc.

“Remember the old restaurant joke, ‘The food there is terrible, and they give you such small portions.’ The corporate corollary: The quotes never say anything, and they take so long to say it. Short quotes are powerful and punchy. Even a lame quote will sound better if it’s brief. Find the nugget and throw out the rest.”
— Jim Ylisela, Jr., president of Duff Media Partners Inc.

“If only Sally Field were here to paraphrase how we feel.”
Wired magazine, on raves about its new site design
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