The Power of ” ”

“I didn’t say that.”

“My words were taken out of context.”

Two phrases no writer, nor their editor, want to hear. Quoting sources is not as easy as people make it out to be. There are rules to quotes and too often those rules are ignored.

” ” Means Exactly Said

First big point. When you put a person’s words in ” ” you are telling the reader that the words within the quotation marks are written exactly the way the person said them. Word for word. No fudging. If you miss words or add words you are then changing the quote. The quote is now a lie. It doesn’t matter if you think they meant to say something. If they didn’t say it, it doesn’t belong there.

[ ] Comes in handy

Now, I just said you cannot add words to a quote. Actually you can, but I really wanted to drive the point home first :) [ ] – these handy little brackets can be used to clarify a quote. Sometimes, actually quite often, when people are talking they’ll skip words or give a good quote, but within that quote they don’t mention the subject. That’s when you can add words with a bracket around them. For example:

“I really hated it [cooking with chefs], but it gave me the experience I needed to grill a great salmon.” or “It’s an important time in [a] teen’s life, getting their license is so exciting.”

The brackets either help clarify who or what the person is talking about for the reader or inserts a minor word that doesn’t change the scope, meaning or intention of the quote. Back in the day, one of my journalism teachers said, if you have to add too many words to make the quote make sense, it’s not a good quote.

Great advice – and did you notice how I didn’t add quotations? It’s because I’m not sure of the exact wording he used.

Brackets are also used in conjunction with [sic]. The term, without getting into the Latin behind it, means – the information you just read had something wrong with it, we know it, but to keep it as a direct quote we didn’t change it. You’ll see this often when someone is quoting a written source that has an error, but it can be used at other times. For example: The note found in the gag read, “All teachers must have a hall pass and a note from their students to use the retroom [sic].”

In writing, little things mean a lot. Take extra care with your quotes to prevent bigger headaches for you and your editor later.

Can you ever leave words out? Yep, but you’ll have to check back on Tuesday to find out more! I’ll also cover when to use quotes. Let’s have a little fun – leave your favorite quote below!

Comments

  1. In the example you gave (cooking with chefs), can you just completely delete the “it” and replace it with the desired phrase?

    I mean:

    “I really hated [cooking with chefs], but it gave me the experience I needed to grill a great salmon.”

    Instead of:

    “I really hated it [cooking with chefs], but it gave me the experience I needed to grill a great salmon.”

  2. I’ve always figured the brackets were there because something was left out, but I wasn’t ever sure. I do like using quotes though so now I may use them with the brackets as well. Great post, thanks!

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