How to write quotes

Punctuation of Quotes

You must use quotations 100% correctly.  You will find different rules about quotations for different forms of writing, such as novels and academic writing.  You must always closely study every edition of your target publication to determine their internal rules.  But for Australian mainstream journalism, you’ll find these are the main rules:

How to write quotes

Stick with the one word said.  Quotation marks on words like emphasised, added, exclaimed, explained, cried, laughed, stated, declared, gasped, cautioned, lied . . . are unnecessary.  If you quote the person’s words and explain their actions and body language, the reader understands the speaker’s mood without the writer having to say “grumbled, proclaimed” and so on.  Editors of mainstream publications demand you use only the simple word said (or says).

Direct speech is inside double quotation marks. Remember that the quote marks which look like 66 “come before the quote marks which look like 99 ” because 66 comes before 99 . . . that’s how to remember.  A computer does it automatically. Example: “Tom did it,” said Joan.

The comma comes after the last word of the quote and before the closing quotation marks (with no spaces).  And then comes the word said and then the person’s name.  Of course sometimes opening and closing quotations marks are just two little strokes like this:  “……………..”

If you are quoting someone who quotes someone else, you do it like this:

“I saw her there and she said: ‘Bob’s not coming,’ and I just ignored her,” Herbert said.

That is, double quotes marks for the original speaker, and single quote marks for the speaker that is being quoted by the original speaker.

My students sometimes ask: “How many quotes should I put in my article?”  Well that all depends on your target publication.  Study your target publication and count up the number of quotes in each article.  That will give you a bit of an idea.  Some publications like a LOT of quotes, taking up say 60% of the article.  Some like few quotes, taking up say 20% of the article.

Partial quotes look like this:  Mr Smith said Ms Brown was not telling the truth and “…she’s always been a liar”, as he laid down the gun.  Personally, I don’t like partial quotes.  I urge you to use whole quotes.

If your quote runs to several paragraphs, you must not put the closing quote marks ” (these ones that look like 9s), until the person is finished speaking, like this:

START each new   “Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah.  No closing quote marks ‘til direct quote ends.

paragraph with quote   “And more blah blah blah blah blah.

marks that look like 6s. “And finally, blah blah blah blah blah,” said Georgie.

Your quotes are 99% sure to be gathered over the phone and must be “fresh” . . . avoid rehashing quotes from elsewhere.  But if you are quoting from a copyrighted source, you should start bynaming the source first, and then use the quote:

In a studio interview on Nine’s A Current Affair last week, Smith told Tracey Grimshaw: “I love her deeply.”


In Patrick Murphy’s column in The Age on 7 May, Jones was quoted as saying: “Gail is up to no good.”

Importantly, I recommend that it’s best to use quotes as the place in your article where people talk about their OPINIONS, FEELINGS and EMOTIONS.  Don’t waste the power of direct quotes to report facts.  Facts and figures should be stated by you the writer.  Even if your interviewee gives you a lot of facts while talking to you, try to use as quotes the more colourful statements. In other words, if Mr Brown says to you:

“This sculpture is, well, I measured it an hour ago and it’s exactly 2.5 metres in total height, it’s solid bronze, and I reckon it’s about 40 tonnes in weight and it was cast just on 12 years ago.  But believe me, it’s the most awe-inspiring, beautiful work of art I’ve ever seen in my life.”

You would write:

The sculpture, cast 12 years ago, is 2.5 metres high, solid bronze and weighs 40 tonnes.  Mr Smith said: “It’s the most awe-inspiring, beautiful work of art I’ve ever seen in my life.”

You’ve stated the facts yourself (and compressed his words, saving space) and you’ve kept his colorful statement about his feelings and emotions to a direct quote, which makes for more powerful writing.

And that leads us to . . . people, the creatures who give out quotations.  Human beings.  People.  Men, women, children . . .  You must get living, breathing people into your articles if you want to sell to mainstream publications.  Pick up a daily or Sunday newspaper.  Browse through the big-selling magazines like Women’s Weekly, Who, Time, Woman’s Day, New Idea, FHM and so on.  What do you see in the photos?  What are the stories about?  PEOPLE !!

People need to know about people.  For just a topic, people can read brochures or encyclopaedias or the internet.  In a student’s story, the topic may be cancer, stamp collecting, astronomy or bookbinding.  But the story should be told through PEOPLE.  A doctor and patient dealing with cancer.  An avid stamp collector who had his stolen lifelong collection returned.  An astronaut and how she feels about having a star named after her.  An old fashioned bookbinder finally going out of business.  Whatever!  What are ALL people interested in?  Answer: other people.  We might love dogs or sport or computers.  We might be passionate about food and travel, or art and music.  But what we are most interested in is people.  People read books, magazines and newspapers to find out what PEOPLE are doing and what their opinions and feelings are.  We want to read about even the people we dislike, just so we know what they’re up to.  We love to read about the people we admire, because we identify with their doings and their opinions.  Few people are interested in royalty as a topic, but billions are interested in the PEOPLE in the real-life soap opera that stars Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Charles and the others.

We watch movies and television because we are endlessly fascinated about how PEOPLE react to life’s obstacles, and we have opinions and feelings about not only these characters, but the actors who play them.  We watch the news not to see catastrophes and political dramas, but to learn how PEOPLE reacted to them.  And so on.  This is why I endlessly drill into my students that you must enliven your articles and photos with PEOPLE.  You must have quotes from real people, and direct quotes should contain opinions and feelings.  To convey ordinary information, use indirect quotes, or let it be you the journalist conveying the information.   Your readers, just like you, want to know, more than anything else, about PEOPLE.  Remember the song about “people who need people”?  Well, readers need people to make sense of stories.

One thought on “How to write quotes”

  1. You just helped a freelance writer get a gig. Thank you. I was unsure about how to handle quotes, and needed a reminder about people being behind every good story.

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