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8 Tips for Using Quotes and Dialogue in Your Blog Posts

This guest post is by Aman Basanti of Ageofmarketing.com.

Quotes and dialogue are one of the most powerful tools in the writer’s toolbox. They bring your writing to life. They give your piece voice and make the words jump off the page. As the famous writer Stephen King once said, “What people say often conveys their character to others in ways of which they—the speakers—are completely unaware.”

Speaker

Copyright Gino Santa Maria - Fotolia.com

While most bloggers understand the power of quotes, they do not know how to format them properly. This post is a crash course in how to use and punctuate quotes in your writing.

Please note that there are exceptions to some of these rules (depending on whether you use the American standard or the UK standard). But for most part if you follow these rules you will be fine.

How to capitalize a quote

All quotes should be capitalized, except for fragments. If your quotes are not capitalised, your readers may think it is a partial quote with the ellipsis omitted.

Even when you quote someone mid-sentence, you should capitalise the quote.

As George Santayana famously said, “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

How to extend a quote over multiple paragraphs

Say you want to break up the following quote into two paragraphs:

“I always say to people,” said Archer in an interview, “don’t write about goblins; don’t write about wizards just because they’re in. Write what you feel at ease with. Always remember Jane Austen. [She] lived in a small village, and wrote about her mother being unable to get rid of four daughters. Then she wrote about her mother being unable to get rid of three daughters. Then she wrote about her mother being unable to get rid of two daughters.”

Most people open and close the quote in each paragraph:

“I always say to people,” said Archer in an interview, “don’t write about goblins; don’t write about wizards just because they’re in. Write what you feel at ease with.”

“Always remember Jane Austen. [She] lived in a small village, and wrote about her mother being unable to get rid of four daughters. Then she wrote about her mother being unable to get rid of three daughters. Then she wrote about her mother being unable to get rid of two daughters.”

The correct way of doing this is not to close the quote at the end of each paragraph, only the last one:

“I always say to people,” said Archer in an interview, “don’t write about goblins; don’t write about wizards just because they’re in. Write what you feel at ease with.

“Always remember Jane Austen. [She] lived in a small village, and wrote about her mother being unable to get rid of four daughters. Then she wrote about her mother being unable to get rid of three daughters. Then she wrote about her mother being unable to get rid of two daughters.”

How to edit a quote

It is amazing how many mistakes we make when speaking. It is only when you transcribe the speech to paper that you see these mistakes. As a writer then, you are allowed to clean up quotes.

For example, consider the following quote:

“There’s a 1000 people in the hall and they all love what I do.”

Clean it up so the verb agrees with the plural “people.”

“There are 1000 people in the hall and they all love what I do.”

The only exception is that if you want to make the author sound uneducated that you leave the quote in its original form.

How to add to a quote

If you need to add to a quote, do not simply include the extra words in the quote. Use the “[ ]” marker to show your additions.

As he said in an interview, “[The prosecution’s case] was weaker than Columbus’s claim that China was 10,000 miles closer than was the accepted wisdom at the time.”

How to include original errors without making yourself look silly

Say you want to insert a quote that is written incorrectly in its original form (whether by design or by mistake) but you do not want your readers to think that you are the source of the mistake.

The poster read, “Old skool remixes are the koolest.”

“Skool” and “koolest” are written incorrectly. To fix this, simply include [sic] after each of the words.

The poster read, “Old skool [sic] remixes are the koolest [sic].”

This lets the reader know that you are not the source of the error.

How to handle a quote within a quote

If you want to insert a quote that has a quote inside of it, use a pair of single quotation marks (‘ ’) to enclose the sub-quote.

“The driver said to me, ‘Where would you like to go today?’”

How to handle commas and periods in your quotes

Do you place commas and periods (full stops) outside or inside of the quotation marks? Answer: It depends. The American standard is that commas and periods go inside the quotation marks, regardless of logic:

As my grandfather used to say, “Better out than an angry tenant.”

The English standard is that commas and periods follow logic:

As my grandfather used to say, “Better out than an angry tenant”.

If you are unsure which standard to follow, include the commas and periods inside the quotation marks.

How to handle question marks and exclamation marks in your quotes

When it comes question marks (?) and exclamation marks (!) both American and English standards follow logic. So if the question is in the quote itself, place it inside of the quotation marks. Otherwise place it outside the quotation marks.

At that point he asked himself, “Is this worth the effort?”
Do you agree with the adage, “Familiarity breeds contempt”?

Conclusion

Follow these rules and your writing will look more professional, helping you establish authority in the mind of your blog readers.

If you know of other mistakes that I have not covered here (I know there are a few more) please share them with us in the comments section.

Aman Basanti writes about the psychology of buying and teaches you how you can use the principles of consumer psychology to boost your sales. Visit www.Ageofmarketing.com/free-ebook to get his new ebook—Marketing to the Pre-Historic Mind: How the Hot New Science of Behavioural Economics Can Help You Boost Your Sales—for FREE.

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Comments

  1. This is as educative as it should be. I often mix up quote and punctuation marks, and don’t seem to bother which should end the sentence.
    Quite a helpful post. Thanks for sharing.

    One question:
    when emphasizing a word in a sentence, which is the right option? A ‘single’ or “double” quote?

    • Gregory C. says:

      Quotes are great for the same reason as images.

      Good use of quotes breaks up a long and informative post nicely.

    • Ikenna, I’m glad you enjoyed it.

      I’m not sure what the official answer is but putting it into bold or in italics are acceptable ways of doing it. If those are not available, like here, you can put asteriks around the word (*important* word). The use of double quote is fine but is frowned upon by most western style guides.

      So bold or Italics should be your first option.

    • You probably shouldn’t use the quote tool to highlight one word. Highlighting it in bold or italics is a simple, effective way, because not only will it stand out from the rest of the text, but search engines also pay attention to that formatting.

      By highlighting a word, you’re informing the user (and crawler) that the word is important.

      I wouldn’t recommend using the asterisk method, as search engines don’t pick up on it and people look at that as more of an action … *smile* or *sigh* … but, hey, who knows. This might be where we’re heading seeing as that particular expression has been adopted by so many.

  2. Thanks for the crash course reminders here. I’m constantly encouraging my readers to improve their writing in order to improve their blogging, and this provides the perfect fuel for accomplishing that task. Thank you.

  3. It’s funny how certain tools of the content editing process aren’t used as much as others. The quotes tool, not only within our editors, but also in general as a part of the journalism language, has the potential to be just as powerful as headlines … maybe even more so.

    I don’t know about you, but I find myself skimming magazine content … the two things that consistently stands out to me are the headlines and quotes, yet headlines take the cake in terms of how to break up content and capture the attention of skimming readers.

    Thanks for the reminder, Aman!

    • I agree completely. Quotes bring your writing to life. People talk about giving your piece voice and making the characters jump off the page – well quotes and dialogues are one of the best ways of doing that. Glad you feel the same way.

  4. Cynthia Siemens says:

    That extending-quotes-across-paragraph-breaks issue is one to which I’ve been sensitive, but for which I had lately forgotten the rule and was too lazy (for shame) to look it up. So thanks…

  5. Brian Yang says:

    There have been a few posts already about grammar, I think that it’s pretty important to be on top of it so your audience takes you seriously.

    In many cases, great content will suck your reader in, but decent grammar will make that easier.

  6. Ruth Zive says:

    My uncle, a brilliant writer, used to use some creative strategy when it came to quotes. In his University History exams, he would write, “Was it not Winston Churchill who said, ‘All great men should be held accountable for their actions?’” (Or some other such nonsense remark). He would contrive the quote entirely, but felt that since it was phrased in the form of a question (…was it not…) he was off the hook. But his writing packed more punch as a result of the quotes. Needless to say, I’m not advocating this approach…just makes for a good anecdote.

  7. Farhan says:

    brilliant post. i was wondering from a few days that should i recommend this blog to some friends who are aspiring writers. now i think i must.

    could you please suggest me some excellent book on the topic of how to write good english which contains some more of these useful tips?

  8. I really appreciate the posts about grammar.

    How to handle the commas and periods, and the differing standards involved, was helpful. I wasn’t clear about that although I usually place them within quotes.

    I wasn’t aware that one could “clean up” quotes either. Very clear, concise and helpful.

    Thank you for your direction!

  9. Awesome article. I guess I should subscribe to your blog. I don’t want to miss out in the future. I recently started a blog and proofreading is my biggest headache! Thanks for the tips. Your new loyal fan.

    Mr. MakingUsmile

  10. Justin Dupre says:

    Thanks for sharing these tips on how to use the quote properly. Very useful indeed.

  11. Becky says:

    These are good tips to know. I know I mess up quite often whether in a post, status update, or on Twitter. Glad to have a reference to look to now to know what to do.

  12. Eddie Gear says:

    Excellent write up I did not know thta there was so much to quotes and to use them the right way.

  13. Thanks for posting this, I know getting quotes right is always troubling and this will be an excellent source to reference when I run into the need to quote someone.

  14. Good stuff! Being newer at the blogging game, I always need tips like this to make my blog look more polished and professional.

  15. Thanks for an informative post Aman!

    I am so glad that eventually someone appreciated and talked about the power of using quotes! I say this because I had been told by a few people as to why I use quotes so often in my blog posts, but I guess now they would know!

    Thanks for sharing more about the ways to go about quoting as well!

  16. James Greg says:

    This is the first time my confusion is cleared about handling commas and periods [full stop] in quotes. I never expected to read anything like this. This is truly amazing and I’m relieved to read this. I’ve learned so much from this. This is a great post and I’m sure many of us grown ups are not familiar with these concepts.

  17. Well done, Aman. Your post is clear, thorough, and helpful.

    One point I’d add is that the use of [sic] can get tricky. Sometimes you really need to use it to show that it’s not you who has made an error; you’re just quoting what a person said or wrote. But when you’re responding to something written by someone whose native language is not English, it can come across as nit-picky and just rude to be throwing in [sic] all over the place when the meaning is clear.

  18. I really enjoyed this article post as it is a gentle reminder to be cognitive of our grammatical accuracy. I will certainly keep these concepts in mind. Thanks for sharing such valuable information!

  19. Mike C says:

    I’ve been writing for a long time (and using quotes). I was a little nervous that I wouldn’t pass your test, but for the most part I’ve been doing everything right. Thanks for pointing these things out so I could make sure I was on track. :)

  20. Rusty says:

    Wow, thank you for this. I might want to bookmark this for future reference as I have been guilty of many typos and grammatical errors in my posts!

  21. Ayo Oyedotun says:

    Great post Aman.

    I really appreciate the instructions on using quotes in blog posts. I have made several mistakes in the past.

  22. Molly Rider says:

    Great post!

    You make the use of quotations feel very easy! Thank you.
    I love your examples, and the comparison between American Standard and British Standard.
    The difference between the two, makes me feel a little less stupid for always second guessing myself when it comes to punctuation inside the quotes or out!

  23. Debra says:

    Thanks for this fantastic post. As an American living in Australia and writing for a mixed audience I get caught out all the time wondering if I should stick with what is used here in Australia or go with what I learned studying in the states. I appreciated your “when in doubt” notes.

  24. one way on making your blog more interesting is to post some inspiring quotes or phrases that the readers can relate to.

    - Jack Leak

  25. Great tips Aman, I’m not always sure what the correct way is to handle quotes, specially when I want to fix them up a bit, but now I’ve bookmarked this post to reference when needed.

  26. Jan says:

    I appreciate the grammar and punctuation tips. My greatest concern is about legalities of quotes.
    What requires permission and what is free to quote?