When writing nonfiction articles, it’s imperative that you sprinkle those articles with quotes from experts or whoever the focal point of your interview is. It’s always great when you’re interviewing someone and that person blurts out an amazing quote, which you know right away will fit into your article perfectly. Other times, you may struggle to pull together a satisfactory quote or two that supports your facts. Although you’ll always need to include some direct quotes in your story, there are times when using indirect quotes, or a paraphrase, of what your expert said is just as good, if not better than the direct quotes.
But how do you know when to use one over the other? There are no hard and fast rules, really, but some general guidelines do exist that can help you make that call.
1. Obviously, if you must use a person’s exact words to maintain accuracy of facts, you’ll need direct quotes. You won’t want to paraphrase a statement that is important enough to get you in trouble for misquoting it or implying something that’s not factual.
2. If you have subject matter that lends itself to the use of highly technical terms, jargon, or acronyms, it’s best to use indirect quotes where you can serve as a translator. If you’ve ever heard a military briefing, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Direct quotes with such jargon would only bring confusion–and boredom!
3. If your interviewee tends to be on the wordy side and has added way too much extraneous information, it’s probably best to paraphrase and summarize that person’s story using indirect quotes. Sometimes you can get away with using partial quotes and omitting parts of their direct quote with ellipses, but you never want to overdo this. It doesn’t take long for partial quotes to become choppy, and you’ll lose the flow of your writing. Here, it’s best to summarize the gist of what that person is saying, and maybe add one or two direct quotes for effect.
4. If you want to capture the subject’s personality and emotions, go with direct quotes. It’s in the quotes that a person’s dialect, cliches, phrasing, and other nuances that really make a subject come alive will be found. Using indirect quotes can never capture the “flavor” and emotion of a person the way direct quotes can.
5. If you want to interject your own comments or opinion of what your subject just said, or if you need to compare the statements of two or more people you’ve interviewed, it’s best to use indirect quotes. Your writing will flow better and be more clear if you can put such a situation into your own words.
There’s definitely a time and place for both direct and indirect quotes, and there’s nothing set in stone to dictate when you must use one over the other. Sometimes it’s helpful to try it both ways and see which one works best. You’ll probably know as soon as you read it whether the information should use direct or indirect quotes. Keep in mind that it’s important to have a balance of both in your story. Use too many direct quotes and the reader may lose sight of who’s actually writing the article! Too few direct quotes and your story will read too much like a narrative.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on how you decide what to use when.