The Freelancer’s Handbook: Quoting Sources

By Kath Walters

Research is the basis of every great story we tell and quoting the sources that contribute to our stories brings depth and balance.

Unfortunately, quoting sources can also end up fragmenting stories, interrupting their flow, and distracting the reader. On the other hand, by not quoting sources you may be plagiarising.

There is an art to introducing ideas from various sources into a story coherently.

Balance

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 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. It is a good idea to group them in your story to make your ideas flow more smoothly.

However, there are disagreements 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 news writing 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 the case in a balanced manner.

Introduce your source

By introducing your sources, you help your readers to identify whether they are in the ‘for’ or ‘against’ camp.

Introducing your quotes means 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 writing 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 enliven a story. There is no point in quoting someone saying, “There are 365 days in a year”.  

The best way to use direct quotations is to “record the opinions, emotions, and unique expressions of your sources,” according to Dennis Jerz, associate professor in English at Seton Hill University in Pennsylvania, USA.

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 can be a fabulous way to end a story – memorable, emotional, and human. A final quote can complete a story, pull it together in a way that lingers in the mind of the reader.

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Don Murray shared his 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.”