Why callouts?

They attract attention, make messages memorable

Callouts (aka breakout quotes, pullout quotes or pull quotes) are “the print equivalent of a sound bite,” according to the authors of The Newsletter Editor’s Desk Book.

Why callouts?

Call me Call out to readers using callouts, aka pullout quotes or pull quotes. Image by Pavan Trikutam

Actually, I think they’re more like movie trailers. They show just enough of the best stuff to get the reader to buy a ticket for the full show.

“Callouts are the print equivalent of a sound bite.” — authors of The Newsletter Editor’s Desk Book Click To Tweet

And that’s the power of a provocative callout: If it’s juicy enough, it can convince someone who’s already decided to skip the story to give it another chance.

The value of callouts

Why callouts? Because they:

1. Increase reading. In 2004, two Swedish researchers used an eyetracking lab to find out at how readers view elements like callouts. After tracking 26 readers as they viewed 34 Nordic newspaper pages, the researchers found that readers:

  • Viewed stories with callouts before those without
  • Read the callouts, usually right after they read the headline
“One of the first things a reader notices when browsing … is the pull quote, a blurb lifted from a story and highlighted on the page.” — John Brady, former editor-in-chief at Writer’s Digest Click To Tweet

2. Boost understanding, persuasion, memory and satisfaction. In a survey of academic research on callouts, two professors at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill report that readers:

  • Better understand a story’s significance when editors draw their attention to important quotations through callouts
  • Are persuaded by the viewpoints represented in the callouts
  • Remember more information from publications that use more callouts
  • Find publications more enjoyable and readable if they use more callouts

David Ogilvy’s research also showed that callouts make messages more memorable. “They are above average in recall tests,” he wrote in Ogilvy on Advertising.

“This deceptively simple packaging device has a large effect on the reader, often determining whether a story is read or ignored.” — John Brady, former editor-in-chief at Writer’s Digest Click To Tweet

3. Multiply clicks. One blogger saw 800 clicks on a single tweetable quote, reports Kevin Lee of Fast Company.

4. Make your message look easier to read. Callouts break up the text, providing visual relief. And if it looks easier to read, more people will read it.

How to write an effective callout

To make the most of this power point on your page:

1. Choose the most provocative point in the story. It doesn’t have to be a quote. What’s your movie trailer? What’s going to transform committed nonreaders into readers?

When my team writes callouts for our health care system clients, we don’t focus on the moment Grandpa came home well. Instead, we focus on the most dire moment in Grandpa’s illness:

“It felt like somebody stuck a knife in me and kept turning it.”

2. Use “tweetables” like ClickToTweet to increase clicks. Here’s how they look:

Write news releases for the reader, not for fill-in-the-blanks PR conventions. Click To Tweet

3. Keep the callout in context. Callouts carry persuasive weight, so make sure they reflect the point you’re trying to make.

4. Place callouts carefully. To avoid frustrating readers looking for the quote in the text, place the callout:

  • Near the quote in the text
  • Before the quote appears in the in text
  • In the same order that the quotes appear in the text

“The goal is to draw readers into your pages and to sell them on what’s ahead,” writes John Brady, “not to make them feel like they are watching a re-run.”

5. Keep it short. Limit it to 10 to 20 words or two to four lines. Even better: Bring it in at under 280 characters to encourage tweeting.

“The long-winded pull quote is more likely to turn off readers than sell them on the story,” Brady writes. “Short quotes often look like an eye chart when they dribble down a page; long quotes create a dense-pack look after four lines. In both instances, readability is endangered.”

6. Use callouts for content promotion. Place callouts in tables of contents, use them as coverlines — even tweet them — to draw readers to your page or screen.

7. Don’t reveal the ending. “Pull quotes that give away the ending are counterproductive,” Brady writes. “As editorial marketing devices, pullquotes are intended to keep the reader in the story right to the last paragraph. Most readers still like to believe in Santa’s clauses. They want to discover what’s under the editorial tree for themselves.”

Finally, don’t drop the callouts. These power tools are far too valuable for communicators to ignore.

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Sources: John Brady, “The Power of Pull Quotes,” Folio:, Nov.1, 2005

Jana Holsanova and Kenneth Holmqvist, “Looking at the Net News: Eye Tracking Study of Net Paper Reading,” Mediekulturer (Stockholm), 2004, pp. 216-48

Rhonda Gibson, Joe Bob Hester and Shannon Stewart, “Pull Quotes Shape Reader Perceptions of News Stories,” Newspaper Research Journal, March 22, 2001

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