Wick Communications

“No need” for quotation marks

In Writing techniques on January 13, 2011 at 3:43 pm

Olivia Tejada is a former newspaper reporter turned fiction writer who lives in Arizona. She keeps a wonderful blog on writing, books, food and travel. This week, she wrote about useless quotation marks. Actually, as she points out, the little squiggles can be worse than useless; they are sometimes misleading and at the very least self important.

She points her readers to Bethany Keeley’s funny blog dedicated to unnecessary quotes. Not surprisingly, that one is called, simply, unnecessary quotes. Or “unnecessary quotes,” if you will. (The photo you see above is one of many you’ll see on Bethany’s site.)

I think Bethany and Olivia make their point rather well without much amplification from me. But I thought I would mention a newspapering corollary that I see very often in our pages. I’m talking about the unnecessary partial quote.

You all know what a partial quote is. It’s something like this, which I pulled from our own Mat-Su Frontiersman: …

In that article, Foster said members would be shocked to know that Berberich’s annual compensation package is more than $500,000 and that he makes Gov. Sean Parnell “look like a pauper.”

That one works. The reason is that “look like a pauper” is a relatively unique expression. Had Foster said the compensation “appears large” or that it made the governor’s pay “seem low” I wouldn’t use the quotation marks. In cases like that, I would paraphrase. Here’s a partial quote in the same story that I think the writer could have done without:

But Board Director Al Strawn told the board that it wasn’t only Foster’s recent statements in the newspaper, but his “pattern of behavior” of violating board policies over the years that disturbed him.

I think we are tempted to overuse the partial quote because we erroneously believe we absolutely need a quote long about the third graph and that using the words of others somehow adds credibility to our writing. Our goal is really to be succinct and clear first, and to add the flavor of the individuals involved second. It’s very likely that your words will accomplish the first goal without those unnecessary quote marks.

Clay

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