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Quick tip: Check quotes from your sources

When you quote someone, make sure to get their quote right.

This is especially important if they’re an ongoing source you want to go back to again.

Remember, most business people are not used to being quoted. They’re not spokespeople. They’re not celebrities.

So they’re unsure about the process.

To reassure a source, here are three simple steps:

  1. Explain that you’d like to quote them by name in your white paper.
  2. Promise to check their quotes before you publish anything.
  3. Make good on your promise.

How to check quotes with a source

You don’t have to show your entire draft to people outside the company. Instead, show them just the parts where you quote them.

The easiest way is to e-mail them those parts, perhaps with a sentence or two from above or below to show them the context.

This also gives you a chance to double-check the spelling of their name, their company, and their work title.

I recently quoted eight sources in one white paper. And sure enough, I’d misspelled one of their names in a couple of places. Happily, he caught that so I could fix it.

But whoops, for a recent article I neglected to check my quotes.

Two of my sources pointed out errors they would have caught if they’d seen their quotes before they were published.

I felt like an idiot. So I re-learned my lesson: Never skip checking quotes.

What if they want to change their quotes?

Don’t be surprised if some sources want to tinker with their quotes. Tweaking a few words is usually no problem.

And it’s probably not because you misquoted them; it’s more likely because they want to clarify their thoughts when they see them.

quote on yellow background bigstock 472882753Try not to let a source expand one sentence into an entire paragraph.

After all, you combed through your transcript to find the most quotable quotes, right?

Some professionals like to qualify every tiny statement to capture every possible nuance or cover every possible edge case.

I’ve found it helps to say the goal of your piece is to cover “the most common 80%” or “the majority of cases.”

And remind them that this isn’t a journal article, it’s a commercial white paper.

Hearing that often helps a source relax.

Or even retract their quote entirely?

Happily, this is rare. But if it does happen, I have one thing to say: “Rats!”

Especially if their quote nailed down an important point perfectly.

First off, try to find out why. What are they worried about?quote on yellow background with red X

Most often, it’s fear about their career or job prospects. Try telling them being recognized as an authority will enhance their career, not hurt it.

If they insist, one approach is to keep the same quote but make it anonymous, as shown below.

Before, with attribution:

“This goes against everything higher education stands for,” says Artemis Bournier, professor of classics at Harvard. “A well-rounded education must include having your ideas challenged. Students can’t simply label any opposing views as bullying or hate speech.”

After, without attribution:

“This goes against everything higher education stands for,” says a professor of classics in an Ivy League school. “A well-rounded education must include having your ideas challenged. Students can’t simply label any opposing views as bullying or hate speech.”

Footnoting your sources

On top of giving an in-text citation as above, you may want to footnote your sources. Here’s how.

With attribution:

1: Artemis Bournier, Harvard University, Zoom interview, 14 September 2023

Without attribution:

1: Name withheld by request, Zoom interview, 14 September 2023

So there you have it: A quick guide to checking quotes from your sources.

This is an important best practice.

And as I’ve said, doing interviews is something that AI just can’t do.

So the more interviews you do for your white papers, the less you have to worry about AI.


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About Gordon Graham

Worked on 320+ white papers for clients from Silicon Valley to Switzerland, on everything from choosing enterprise software to designing virtual worlds for kids, for clients from tiny startups to 3M, Google, and Verizon. Wrote White Papers for Dummies which earned 60+ 5-star ratings on Amazon. Won 16 awards from the Society for Technical Communication. Named AWAI 2019 Copywriter of the Year.

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