How to Write Quotable Quotes

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 Orsi Korman, Account Director, Content, Red Havas

All communicators have been there before: Having to write a quote that sounds intelligent, insightful and impressive. Oh, and make it personalized. Memorable, too. And quick!

Whether you work in external or internal communications in the corporate or the agency world, you cannot escape writing quotes for articles, press releases, websites, newsletters and other collateral. It usually helps to know the person and/or the topic at hand, and it may also make your life easier if said person sits down with you to discuss their thoughts — or provides a written draft of their thoughts — on the topic at hand.

There are also some ground rules to follow, starting with less is more. While quotes can and should be colorful and thoughtful, they should also stay succinct and relevant as much as possible. For example, if each paragraph in your copy averages 75 to 100 words, make sure the quotes stay in the same range. After all, with too long an explanation and too many adjectives, even the smartest quote may become unquotable.

In addition, they should display emotions, values, attitudes and opinions, reflecting the person’s unique voice and tone, while adding value to the story. That’s a tall order, but with a little bit of planning, relatively easily achieved. Most importantly, stay focused on the emotional part — make each quote sound more human and less orchestrated than the rest of the copy may be. After all, quotes are there to add a human element and substantiate your story.

So, where to begin?

Know the subject
Just like any other writing assignment, writing a great quote starts with researching your topic and having a solid understanding of the key points. In all communications, quotes need to move the story forward by painting the big picture, highlighting the key takeaways, making a transition from one topic to the next, adding some flavor and personal insight to data or descriptions, and/or providing appropriate closure.

If you are in charge of an entire story, start with an outline where you can pencil in the right spots for the right people to be quoted, depending on their rank, role, subject matter expertise, experiences and personality. It often helps to write a first draft of the story itself, then turn certain paragraphs into quotes by intentionally and generously adding some subjectivity and HEAT — a term coined by a Red Havas white paper — which stands for humanity, empathy, authenticity and transparency.

If you are only responsible for a specific quote or two, not an entire storyline, you still need to learn a bit about the person and the topic, you just won’t have to worry about placing each quote in the right spot, which gives you more flexibility in how — and how long — to formulate them.

Get personal
You will also need to sprinkle in some personality, which may come easily if you know the person to be quoted, or may have to wait until you get to know — or get to collect some scoop about — them. Key insights will include their personal preferences for words and phrases, such as organization vs. company, colleagues vs. teammates or priorities vs. focus areas. You should also strive to capture any evident communications habits they may have when it comes to sounding particularly friendly, optimistic, candid, uplifting or scholastic, for example. Lastly, as you strive to make them sound intelligent, insightful and impressive, don’t be afraid to take some editorial liberties to only focus on their positives, especially when it comes to being too dry, too direct, too long-winded, too reserved or too monotonous in real life.

If you are writing for someone you don’t know, a good place to start is prior content they may have authored or that may include their opinions or quotes. You may also check their LinkedIn page or connect with their assistant or representative for such content, as well as any other guidance or examples they may be able to share. This is where an executive style guide, for example, can come in handy. People close to your subject can then serve as initial sounding boards, to offer suggestions or review drafts as appropriate.

Make it fit
While you should strive to make each quote sound like the person it will be attributed to, you also need to be mindful that it needs to fit your story. So, after creating an outline, writing your copy, sculpting certain paragraphs into quotes and tweaking them to be more personal, you should go back over the writing in its entirety to ensure the quotes do fit — they help to paint the big picture, highlight key takeaways, make transitions from one topic to the next, add flavor and personal insight to data or descriptions, and/or provide appropriate closure.

If you are working with a draft quote provided by the person or their representative, feel free to edit it for both content and style as well. Find the right balance between actually saying something and including some emotion as appropriate. For example, most executives are ‘pleased’ or perhaps ‘delighted’ about every piece of company news that gets them quoted, whereas they could really try to be more happy or proud — don’t be afraid to make them sound human, in addition to intelligent, insightful and impressive.


Orsi JormanAbout the Author: Orsi supports content creation and content strategy for high-profile corporate, consumer and cause clients of Red Havas — and she could not be happier. Her specialties include writing, editing, ghostwriting, blogging, marketing, digital/social and experiential, all in AP style.