Public Relations Tactics

Put a Quota on Quotes

March 3, 2017


Too much of a good thing is almost always a bad thing.

Quotes can humanize your message, allow you to insert opinion into your piece, add creativity and color to your copy, and even change the pace and tone of your message. But what about too many quotes? Almost as bad as too many brie-on-brioche sandwiches.

“Too many good ideas are buried in Dilbert-esque releases because… every corporate executive gets quoted,” says Alison Harris, publisher of Call Center News.

To avoid overquoting, allocate about 12 percent of your total word count to quotes. That’s what The New York Times does, according to our analysis of the news publication of record’s practices.

Keep quotes tight and rare.

Here are three ways to put a quota on quotes.

1. Paraphrase quotes.

Never use quotes to convey basic information. That’s what this passage does:

“According to the National Fire Protection Association, more than 30,000 house fires per year are associated with electrical equipment,” said Somebody at Some Company. “Christmas tree fires alone cause an average of 14 deaths and 40 injuries each year. By following a few simple safety guidelines, you can avoid electrical fires and keep their holidays happy.”

Why quote a subject matter expert quoting a third party to communicate these facts? And then, why quote her some more to make the transition into the tips?

In this case, I’d paraphrase the whole quote and write something more provocative for the subject matter expert to say:

Electrical equipment causes more than 30,000 house fires a year, according to the National Fire Protection Association. Fires from Christmas tree lights alone cause an average of 14 deaths and 40 injuries yearly.

“Christmas is no time to see your family’s dreams go up in flames,” says Somebody at Some Company.

Here are three ways to avoid electrical fires and keep your holidays happy.

So don’t use quotes to convey basic information. Corollary: Never use quotes to say nothing.

2. Curate quotes.

“Peel the quote back to one great sentence,” counsels Jacqui Banaszynski, Knight Chair in Editing at the Missouri School of Journalism, who is also on the visiting faculty of The Poynter Institute.

Or less.

The New York Times peels the quote back to one great phrase in this passage:

“He described some of the tactics as ‘sadistic and terrifying’ but left it to Justice Department lawyers to decide whether they were legal.”
Would your quotes be twice as good if they were half as long?

3. Cut quotes.

Some 18 percent of The New York Times stories do not have quotes, according to our content analysis.

 “One way to decide whether to include a quote is to temporarily delete it and read the revised piece,” writes Chris Smith, the brilliant copyediting guru at Entergy Corp. “Then ask, ‘Will a reader learn more if I restore the quote?’ No? Then leave it out, or find a better one.”


Copyright © 2017 Ann Wylie. All rights reserved.


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Ann Wylie

Ann Wylie ( works with communicators who want to reach more readers and with organizations that want to get the word out. To learn more about her training, consulting or writing and editing services, contact her at


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