By Kath Walters
Great writing is based on great ideas, and these do not come out of our minds alone.
Research, in other words, is the basis of every great story. Quoting the sources who contributed to our stories brings depth and balance to them.
Unfortunately, quoting sources can also end up fragmenting your story, interrupting the flow, and distracting the reader. Not quoting sources, on the other hand, may result in plagiarism.
There is an art to fluidly introducing ideas from various sources into your story in a way that is coherent.
Balance is a misunderstood idea. It does not mean canvassing both sides of an argument and leaving it up to the reader to decide.
Balance is presenting your ideas, based on your research, while openly addressing the criticisms that others might have of them.
Why is this important to quoting sources?
Because you want to present some quotes that support your case, and others that oppose it, and it’s a good idea to group them in your story to makes your ideas flow more smoothly.
Actually, not everyone agrees with me about the issue of balance. The online journalists’ resource, The News Manual, describes the role of the journalist thus: “… as a journalist, you are simply the channel through which people with something to say speak to people who want to know what they said.”
This is true for newswriting in my view, but not for features, profiles, case studies and many other forms of journalism.
In many cases, the writer’s role is to do the research and then argue our case with balance.
Introduce your source
By introducing your sources, you help your readers to identify whether they are in the ‘for’ or ‘against’ camp, just as I did in the section above.
Introducing your quotes means signalling that a quote is coming, and making an assertion about where the quote fits into your story, according to the valuable online resource, The Writer’s Handbook.
The handbook elegantly summarises the task of including quotes in this way: “One of your jobs as a writer is to guide your reader through your text. Don’t simply drop quotations into your paper and leave it to the reader to make connections.”
Don’t quote facts
Quotes are there to enliven the story. There is no point in quoting someone saying “There are 365 days in a year.”
The best way to used direct quotations is to “record the opinions, emotions, and unique expressions of your sources,” writes Dennis Jerz, associate professor in English at Seton Hill University in Pennsylvania, USA.
I agree. Quotes are like lovers: we don’t need them, but we want them because they make life more interesting and meaningful.
End with a quote
Quotes do not make good beginnings. They are too slow. We want to know both the point of the story we are reading, and its benefit to us, within seconds of starting to read it.
On the other hand, a quote is a fabulous way to end a story – it’s memorable, emotional and human. A final quote completes a story, pulls it together and lingers in the minds of your readers.
CubReporters.org reports Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Don Murray’s views on ending stories with a quote. “Its authority comes from the speaker, not the reporter. It gives a sense of objectivity to the story, and it allows for a conclusion in a manner that the reader will accept and believe. It lets the writer get out of the way.”