Tips to Write Quotes that Come Alive by Ken O’Quinn

Tips to Write Quotes that Come Alive by Ken O’Quinn
October 8, 2018 Kelly McFalls

At our upcoming Jack Jackson Art of Writing workshop on Oct. 11 and 18, Ken O’Quinn will be sharing writing strategies and insights from his career as an AP journalist and coach to some of the nation’s leading brands and agencies.

 As a preview of Ken’s perspective on writing, following is a post from his blog, reprinted with permission:

Tips to Write Quotes that Come Alive

Public relations and communications professionals routinely create quotes for news releases, but that doesn’t mean the quotes need to be dull.

Quotes are meant to deepen a reader’s understanding of an article, a release, or a story by providing facts, insight, a perspective, or emotion. They also bring writing alive, and our eyes are drawn to quotes when we read because they represent human voices speaking.

In mainstream journalism, the quotes are authentic because they are spontaneously given during a live interview. But within a company, executives do not want to be interviewed by their communications people every time a news release is published, so communicators fabricate the quotes and submit them for approval. That doesn’t mean they need to be boring. Just as broadcasters waste airtime by asking mindless questions, many communicators don’t take full advantage of quotes by providing substantive information. The quotes usually are predictable, self-serving, and boring.

Here are ways quotes can be useful:

  • To confirm facts.

Here is an analyst on why people have been abandoning land-line phones since the start of the recession:

“People had to trim expenses but also had to maintain some type of connection, so many ditched their landline and went only to wireless.”

  • To provide insight or expertise.

Here is an executive talking about Toyota’s decision to move Lexus production from Japan to the U.S.:

“Within 30 days, we put together our final proposal and went to the board. In Toyota terms, for us to do this in 30 days is lightning speed,” he said. “We had all the challenges figured out. The board had a few questions, not many, and the program was approved.”

  • To convey emotion.

Here is a leader of the pilot’s union after airlines began rehiring pilots because of improved profitability:

“We welcome our brother and sister pilots back with open arms,” said Capt. Jay Heppner, chairman of the leadership council in the airline pilot’s association. “We have worked toward this day for more than five years.”

  • To capture an attitude.

Here is a military commander responding to critics after a bombing:

“Leadership isn’t about being the most popular guy on the street. It’s about getting the job done and improving a bad environment.”

  • To help you develop good quotes, ask questions:
  • Why is this news significant?
  • What is unusual?
  • Why did we make this product?
  • Why would anyone buy it?
  • How will this affect our position in the market?

Quotes should help readers make sense of the news.

Don’t miss this workshop. Sign up today:

Ken O’Quinn is a professional writing coach and former Associated Press writer who conducts corporate workshops on business writing, persuasive writing, and corporate communications writing. He is the author of Perfect Phrases for Business Letters (McGraw-Hill), which is available  here at

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