5 tips for writing good quotes that don’t stink

Follow Ragan Consulting Group’s tips for good quotes and submit them to its “Quotes That Don’t Suck” contest.

Here are five tips for writing great quotes.

Welcome to the first Ragan Consulting Group, “Quotes That Don’t Suck Contest,” in which contestants vie for fabulous prizes (OK, gift cards) based on their ability to wrangle, through intrepid reporting and wily interviewing skills, a captivating quote for one of their stories.

Every day, organizational communicators go to their leaders, subject matter experts and other colleagues hoping to find an authentic human voice that enlivens their storytelling. Far too often, the quotes are, well, crap.  In fact, they are often the worst assemblage of words in the entire article.

Why are the quotes so bad? They don’t say anything. They don’t enliven the story. In the worst of cases, they’re incomprehensible. The quotes in your stories should be engaging, lively and opinionated. Instead, they are often boring and robotic, drowning in cliches and corporate speak, as in:

“This implementation will allow us to achieve a multi-modal synergy in which we integrate our systems in an asynchronous way.”

So, here’s your challenge: Send us a story, internal or external, that contains at least one quotable quote. Your entry will be judged by our expert panel of prickly editors who believe every quote should fight its way into your story.

BONUS: We’ll also offer another prize for the worst, stinking quote you’ve been forced to publish. (Anonymity on this one is guaranteed.)

Entry details are below and please, only one entry per person. In the meantime, if you’re looking for a little guidance, follow our five simple rules for good quotes:

1. Feelings, not facts. We don’t need vice presidents of whatever to give us numbers and data. We need them to tell us why those numbers matter, and why we should care about them. You can write the facts yourself – and probably better than your experts can say them.

2. Less is a whole lot more. Many potentially good quotes are ruined by all the verbiage wrapped around them, as noted by what The Grim Reaper says about Americans in Monty Python’s “The Meaning of Life.” Chop out the long windups and the excess words, and keep what’s worth quotin

3. Direct from the quote factory. There are people in your organization who are really good at providing clear and succinct quotes. Someone in IT, believe it or not, can talk about tech in a way that makes people care and understand. Develop your go-to sources, especially among subject matter experts, who can deliver the goods.

4. Make them count. In storytelling, quotes should do something to help the story move along. Look for the best quotes to: a.) give readers the big picture; b.) make a transition from one theme to the next; c.) add spice and flavor to a set of facts or description; d.) provide the perfect wrap to your story.

5. When at first you don’t succeed . . . follow up. A funny thing happens when you interview people in your own organization. They stiffen. They freeze. They start thinking about what they should say in their “official” voice rather than their actual voice.

And even though these folks are your colleagues, when it comes to an interview, they sometimes react like they’re caught in an ambush. Real deer in the headlights stuff, depicted brilliantly by Martin Short in this 60 Minutes parody.

It’s your job to put your subjects at ease. It can take the whole interview to get them comfortable, which is why it’s always a good idea to follow up. Call your subjects later that day or the next day to thank them for the interview and tell them you have a few follow-up questions. They’ll be far more relaxed the second time around, and that’s when you’ll get your best quotes.

How to enter our contest: Send me a copy of your story and highlight a great quote from one of our sources. One entry per person, please. Send your email to james.ylisela@raganconsulting.com. We’ll pick three winners for best quote: bronze, silver and gold. Each winner will receive a certificate suitable for framing in an inexpensive frame. Each winner will also receive a gift card. It won’t be top dollar, but it will be a token of our appreciation. We’ll stop taking entries on Aug. 17, 2022, and publish the results in a later story.

Bonus points: We’re holding a second drawing for the worst quote you’ve been forced to publish. (We’ll keep your name off these.) Again, one entry per person.

Jim Ylisela is co-founder and senior consultant at Ragan Consulting Group. He loves movie and TV references that his far younger colleagues have never heard of, or seen. Schedule a call with Kristin Hart to learn how we can help you improve your communications effort with training, consulting and strategic counsel. Follow RCG on LinkedIn and subscribe to our weekly newsletter here.


Ragan.com Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive the latest articles from Ragan.com directly in your inbox.