Attribution of Quotes

Every now and then a technical writer needs to quote people in an article, attributing each quote to the respective speaker so that the reader knows exactly who is talking. There are right ways and wrong ways to do this.

First, don’t be afraid to use the simple word “said.” Don’t use “says” unless the person says that same thing often.


“We plan to complete the project by December 2011,” he said.

“Drill, baby, drill,” the Senator says when asked how to boost the economy.

Second, only use one attribution per paragraph; more attributions merely get in the way.

Bad Example:

“We plan to reach TD tomorrow in our casing-while-drilling pilot,” Bob said. “At that point, we will need to have the cement trucks lined up,” he continued, “so that we can cement the casing in place immediately.”

I like to either identify the speaker in the paragraph preceding the quote and follow the quote with a simple “he said,” or put an attribution after the first sentence or long phrase of the quote. That way the reader doesn’t have to wait until the end of a long paragraph to figure out who is doing the talking.


Joe Schmoe, toolpusher on the Bandersnatch #4 rig, had never seen such a thing before. “I couldn’t believe my eyes!” he said.

“I couldn’t believe my eyes,” said Joe Schmoe, toolpusher on the Bandersnatch #4 rig. “I have never seen anything like that before.”

Don’t use descriptive language in the attribution – that’s a sure sign of a novice writer.

Bad Example:

“I had heard stories about a jackalope,” the gray-bearded toolpusher said with amazement, “but I never expected to see one bounding across my wellsite.”

Whenever you change speakers, give the readers a heads-up by identifying the change as close as possible to the place where the switch takes place. If you have two he’s or two she’s doing the talking, then clear up which one is speaking by using their last names.


3 Responses to “Attribution of Quotes”

  1. Citavi Reference Manager « Tech Comm Student Says:

    […] always important to attribute your citations correctly. (Here’s a blog post on Technical Writing Tips for the Oil Patch about attributing quotes in tec…) Particularly after all the plagiarism scandals in Germany in the last weeks involving politicians, […]

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