Quotations should add, not steal, life

manWhen readers come across sentences within quotation marks, they read them as if someone is speaking the words. In novels, dialogue is believable only when it makes the characters sound real.

“If Mr. Touchett had consulted me about leaving you the money, I would have said to him, ‘Never!’”
“I see. You think it will prove a curse in disguise. Perhaps it will.”
“Leave it to some one you care less for—that’s what I should have said.”
“To yourself, for instance? Do you really believe it will ruin me?”
“I hope it won’t ruin you; but it will certainly confirm your dangerous tendencies.”

                                    —from The Portrait of a Lady

 That could be a real conversation between two real people, couldn’t it? Short sentences using words people actually use give the speakers credibility. Now, tell me what you think of this quotation:

“The NowPublic focus has always been on providing individuals, whether they are amateurs or professional journalists, the tools they need to quickly and easily contribute their perspectives on the issues of the day and the topics that interest them and their community. By combining our tools and audience with Examiner.com’s established, vetted, local content-generators, we are enabling Examiner.com, which has already seen incredible success, to further succeed in providing a site that attracts experts as contributors, passionate readers and the advertisers that want to reach them.”

                                           —Leonard Brody, NowPublic

“Building on our long-standing relationship with Comcast, we are pleased to participate in the On Demand Online trial to create an online viewing solution that appeals to growing consumer demand for convenient access to their favorite programs while continuing to drive value for distributors, programmers and advertisers alike. We are excited to give fans of our shows more options to see our high-quality programming and this trial represents an important next step in those efforts. We are also committed to working with Comcast and across the industry to develop a consistent online model for consumers and a meaningful way to measure viewing across platforms.”

                                        —Bill Goodwyn, Discovery Communications

How about this one? Try to say it out loud without taking a breath:

“The PlastiPure certification seal ensures customers are receiving not a mere marketing tag, such as BPA-free or phthalate-free, but a comprehensive health solution. PlastiPure’s partnership with Hydrapak provides us the opportunity to leverage the strength of both companies and is a model we will continue to follow as we work with plastic suppliers and product manufacturers to deliver the safe and ecologically-friendly products consumers demand.”

                                        —Mike Usey, CEO of PlastiPure

Brody, Goodwyn and Usey all have one thing in common: They lost their readers’ attention, and with it, their chance to communicate a memorable message.

A quotation in a press release doesn’t have to contain five or 10 message points. And long sentences don’t make someone sound more intelligent—just more difficult to follow.

Quotations should make the speaker sound as if he or she is speaking directly to you, the reader. The words shouldn’t sound attorney-approved. They should humanize the story you’re trying to tell. And when they’re read aloud, they should flow as naturally as if they are real and unrehearsed.

If you have any great examples, please share them!

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