Category Archives: direct quotes

Limit indirect quotes and increase direct quotes to improve writing

What is an indirect quote?  Here are some examples.

  • Sia said that she was really tired.
  • Riley asked me for a pencil.
  • April told the dog to get off the couch.
  • Donald Trump urged Alabama voters to choose Luther Strange.3rd grader writing an essay.

What is a direct quote?

  • Sia said, “I’m tired.”
  • “Hey, how about forking over a pencil, Dude?” asked Riley.
  • “Jump down this second, you naughty pooch!” April yelled at her dog.
  • “Big day in Alabama. Vote for Luther Strange, he will be great!” tweeted Donald Trump.

Why are direct quotes usually better?

  • The middle man is removed. The reader can decide for himself what the speaker or writer actually said and meant.
  • The personality of the speaker often shows through the use of formal or informal vocabulary and sentence structure.
  • The vocabulary is sometimes more precise or colorful.
  • The reader experiences the immediacy of an event.

Are indirect quotes ever okay?  Yes, of course.  Sometimes indirect quotes are even preferred, such as

  • If a speaker / reporter needs to be brief. Sometimes a paragraph of direct quotes can be reduced to a handful of words.
  • If the writer thinks she might be accused of a misquote, an indirect quote can eliminate this problem.
  • If the writer wants to hide the actual words used because the speaker used foul language, grammatical errors or anything which might show the speaker in a bad light, paraphrasing can eliminate these problems.
  • If the identity of the speaker needs to be hidden, but could be learned from the way he speaks, then paraphrasing provides cover.
  • If the writer doesn’t remember the exact words or wants to summarize them, then indirect quotes work well.

Bottom line:  Use direct quotes when you can.  If you  write with direct quotes, your writing is likely to sparkle.

To paraphrase is not to summarize

Paraphrasing means restating, using your own words and grammar to interpret the essence of a document.  Paraphrases contain about the same number of words as the original.  In paraphrases, you write the ideas in the same order as in the original.  You include all the original ideas and details, but you use spot-on synonyms for all key words and you use your own phrasing and sentence structure.  To follow the original sentence structure, merely substituting synonyms for significant words, is plagiarism.girl writing and thinking

Summarizing also means restating while using your own words and grammar.  But summaries are much shorter than the original.  A summary includes all the main ideas, but names only the most important details.  Summaries need not follow the original document  in order of presentation of ideas, though a summary should identify the original method of organization.  Nor does a summary need to include information from every paragraph.  Hooks can be eliminated.

Summaries distill the focus of the original document into concise language.  If your summary seems like a list of data, then it is poorly written.  You should use logic to connect ideas.

Why are summarizing and paraphrasing so important?  If you can paraphrase or summarize an article well, that shows you understand the original.  Paraphrasing is much like translating from one language to another.  You leave nothing out while finding the right vocabulary, grammar and tone to express the original document’s ideas.  Summarizing is also like translating, but for an impatient listener who wants only the important ideas.

Using long direct quotes is frowned upon in both paraphrases and summaries.  The exception is if the original document contains famous phrases or words.  Even then, only snippets of the original should be used.  If you are paraphrasing Abraham Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address,” for example, quoting “of the people, by the people, and for the people” would be okay since those words are so identified with the document.  But quoting the whole sentence from which those words should not be done most of the time.

If you are paraphrasing or summarizing a writer or document whose style is important–Hemingway, for example–then showing that style by using direct quotes would be necessary.  Another way to handle that style issue would be to write your paraphrase or summary in the style of the original document and then point that out to the reader.