One of the best ways to improve your magazine articles is by ensuring that your quotes are as meaty as they can be. This is true whether you're using quotes to lead up to your nut graf, to finish your story, or as a trail of breadcrumbs for the reader to follow.
Loose, wordy quotes are a waste of space. Tightly edited, powerful quotes are a writer's best friend.
Edit, Edit, Edit
Typically, sources do not speak in succinct quotations. Most people tend to ramble a bit, eventually coming to a point. Your job as a writer is to edit the source's words down to as few as possible in order to make that point. Cut through the red tape, so to speak, and give the reader only the essential elements that make the quotation great.
The one caveat you must keep in mind is that you always must be faithful to your source's intent and context, especially when you break a quotation in mid-sentence. You have a responsibility as a journalist to make sure your sources are quoted accurately, and that responsibility extends beyond printing the exact words the person said. You also must be certain that you are being true to what the person meant overall.
If a quote does not break smoothly — say the best part of the quote is buried within an annoying run-on sentence — then you can cut out the beginning and forgo using every single word your source said. For instance, you might write: John said he thought the car manufacturer would “make great improvements in fuel technology despite the financial challenges.”
Watch Your Attribution
Using attribution properly is another way to make sure your quotes have as much impact as possible. A lot of beginning writers believe you should let the source speak, and then attribute the entire quotation at its end with a phrase such as “Michelle said.” In reality, if you truly want the reader to feel the weight of the quote, the “Michelle said” should probably come in the middle of the quotation itself.
Look at the following examples, and see for yourself which sentence construction leaves you with a stronger impression:
“I thought the patient might die, so I did the procedure myself, without an attending in the emergency room. When I stuck the catheter into his skin, I knew I was putting my job on the line, but all I kept thinking was that his life was on the line,” Michelle said, fidgeting and looking down.
“I thought the patient might die, so I did the procedure myself, without an attending in the emergency room,” Michelle said, fidgeting and looking down. “When I stuck the catheter into his skin, I knew I was putting my job on the line, but all I kept thinking was that his life was on the line.”
What makes the second version so much more powerful is that the last thing the reader sees is the terrific quote itself — “his life was on the line” — and not your interpretation of how the speaker looked when she said it. Of course, how she looked — fidgety and nervous — is important to the context of the quote, but where you put the attribution in this case has just as much effect on the reader as the way you phrase it. The same is true of most quotes, something to keep in mind when looking to strengthen the ones you want to use.