News Appendix 9: How to punctuate and attribute quotations

Appendix description or content:

When a reporter uses a direct quote – the exact words a speaker uses – he/she should follow the following rules in presenting those words.

  1. Encapsulate the words in quotation marks, putting any periods or commas inside of the quotation marks, as in:  “Put the commas inside like this,” he said.  “Put the periods inside, too.”
  2. Generally, use “said,” not words like “claimed,” “exclaimed,” “shouted,” or any other verb that could serve as a distraction.  “Said” goes down easy — readers hardly even see it.
  3.  If the words aren’t a direct quote — in other words, if you want to paraphrase what a source said, then don’t use quotation marks and merely attribute the comment with “according to” or “he/she said.”
  4.  Use “stated” only for written statements.
  5.   “Said” is a better choice for newswriting than “says” because the latter suggests an ongoing quality to the words, as if they continue to be spoken in perpetuity, which is not the case.  An exception to this is in some feature stories and also in newsmagazines, which often use “says” in an artificial way to make a story seem more current.
  6. Generally, put your attributions after your quotations, not before them.  So we should see:  “John likes you,” she said.
  7. If you need to take out something from the middle of a quote, use an ellipse (…), like this:  “I don’t like his … face,” Sheila said.  (Avoid using ellipses at the beginning or end of a quotation.
  8. Quotes are sacred, but you may use parentheses, in moderation, to insert words in quotation to clarify its meaning.  “He (Tony) is a good fighter.”
  9. It’s acceptable to correct minor grammatical errors in quotations.  You don’t want people to look foolish in print just because you recorded the exact sounds of their speech, including stutters, stammers, uhs, repeated words and mid-sentence readjustments.