Accurate and Artistic Quotes

Amy Letinsky shared her expertise during a recent “Write Start” session for NCWA.

Capturing quotes is a tricky business.  You want to faithfully
represent the person or source that you’re quoting, but you also want
to incorporate them into your work in a creative way.

These two goals might seem to be at odds.  How can you be both accurate and artistic, at the same time?

Here are some tried and true tips I’ve gathered over the years while
teaching my writing students how to integrate quotes into their
research papers.


Use the journalist’s six key questions to guide your quotations.  Make
sure you include the who, what, when, where, why, and how of the
situation.  You most accurately represent a situation when you pay
attention to all these elements.  Make it creative by highlighting a
certain question, such as the who or perhaps the what.

2.“So What?”

Pay attention to the main point in the source you’re using.  Ask “so
what?” to get to the heart of it.  Choose the material to quote based
on whether it addresses the heart of the issue.

3.Highlight Humor

Part of the creativity in using quotes is deciding which quotes to
include.  Choose quotes that are memorable, and always be on the
lookout for humor.  Borrowing funny lines from others makes your own
work seem more entertaining.

4.Paraphrase vs Direct Quotes

Decide whether it’s best to paraphrase your source or quote it
directly.  Sometimes, word choice is excellent in the original form,
and you can’t top the phrasing.  In that case, use it with direct
quotes.  But if the quote would be best summed up in your own words,
consider paraphrasing it, just as long as you make the attribution
clear (don’t take credit for ideas that aren’t your own).

5.Creative Order

You don’t always need to present quotes in the exact order in which
they are given.  Start with the punchline, if you prefer that order.
Feel free to re-tell a story with the ending first.  Be faithful to
the source’s words, but allow yourself some freedom with how you
arrange them in your own work.

6.Limit the “he said” “she said” attributions

Instead of constantly repeating “so and so said,” Find creative ways
to give credit to the source.  There are many seamless and transparent
ways to integrate quotes within your own writing.  Also, you’ll find
that attributions don’t need repeating as often as you might think.


Amy Letinsky has been a writing instructor for over 6 years.  She
currently teaches college writing and literature courses online.  Her
writing courses focus on the use of research in writing and the
nonfiction essay.  Read more from Amy at her blog:


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