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7 Expert Editing Tips for Quoting Speakers When Repurposing Content

May 15, 2024

Who doesn’t love a good quote? Whether inspirational, insightful or just plain intriguing, the right quote can draw in your audience and get them excited to read on.

And when you have stellar subject matter experts to quote — from a podcast episode, webinar or presentation recording — you’ve struck content transformation gold.

You now have incredible, highly relevant insights at your fingertips, just waiting to be shared with your audience!

But when you get into the nitty-gritty of writing, you will quickly see that quoting your subject matter expert/guest/speaker word-for-word isn’t always feasible. Quoting challenges can happen for a variety of reasons, from convoluted wording to confusing analogies or examples.

Editing quotes is more art than science, and everyone has a slightly different take. So the Spoke editors put our heads together to share some of the big-picture principles of quote edits for B2B marketing.

In this quick-and-simple guide to editing quotes for your next content marketing piece — be it blog post, white paper or ebook — you’ll find seven tips to make your quotes sparkle and your repurposed content shine.

1. Maintain meaning

News flash: we don’t always speak the same way we write.

In a recording, perhaps an expert said something insightful, but they spoke in a sentence fragment or a run-on. When editing, it’s perfectly okay — and expected — to correct the grammatical issues. But you absolutely want to preserve the meaning of what they said.

To make a quote work when it’s written out, it’s perfectly fine to add an implied subject or transition words in brackets, while keeping the core points central to the quote. Do what you can to help your audience more quickly understand the root of what your speaker is saying.

2. Put yourself in the reader’s shoes

If you’re quoting a speaker while repurposing content from a recording, you’ve (hopefully!) listened to the entire podcast or webinar. Absorbing the quotes within the scope of the full recording offers important context. But you can’t assume that your reader has the same background, so you need to limit confusion however you can.

Use readability and clarity as guiding principles if you’re considering adjusting the structure of a quoted sentence. How can you make the quote more scannable and less complicated?

Also, ask yourself if the quote could stand on its own and still make sense to the reader. While the answer doesn’t need to be yes for every single quote, this question can help you gauge whether your reader will catch the speaker’s meaning.

3. Help your speaker sound their best

Most people want to come across well when quoted.

While the editing process certainly shouldn’t impose ideas that weren’t originally present in the quote (see point #1!), it benefits everyone — speaker, brand and audience — to polish a quote and make it clearer and more succinct.

Here’s a hypothetical example of this concept in action:

👉 Before: “If a speaker used superfluous, or, that is, if they used too many words, it might be helpful for you to consider taking the sentence and cutting it down a bit, for instance, to make sure that the speaker can sound the best they possibly can.”

✅ After: “If a speaker used too many words … consider cutting [the sentence] down, so [they] can sound their best.”

In addition to polishing the speaker’s wording, this example improves readability, maintains meaning and maximizes quotability.

4. Bridge two related ideas with ellipses

Let’s say you’re writing a blog post based on a podcast interview, and your expert made an incredible point about your ideal customers. But then they dived into a quasi-related story that is too long to quote or simply elaborated more than needed to make the point for your reader.

If you need to abbreviate two stellar, closely-related thoughts about the topic, use ellipses (…) to indicate you’ve omitted words. Alternatively, you can summarize one of the ideas, then jump directly into the quote.

Take a look at the following quote (made up by yours truly). Notice how the story meanders before actually getting to the point.

👉 Before: “Editing a speaker’s insightful quote from a conversation or presentation is like a sculpting process. It reminds me of when my husband decided to cut his hair at home. He was trying to make me laugh and said, ‘I just have to cut away the hairs that don’t need to be there, that’s all.’ He was referring to some quote — I want to say it was from Michelangelo or something, who said that sculpting is about taking away the clay that doesn’t need to be there to uncover the masterpiece? Something like that. But in any case, it’s about finding those beautiful core statements then artfully shaping the surrounding context to help the speaker sound their best.”

✅ After (option 1 — using ellipses): “Editing a speaker’s quote [to share] from a conversation or presentation is like a sculpting process. … It’s about finding those beautiful core statements then artfully shaping the surrounding context to help the speaker sound their best.”

✅ After (option 2 — summarizing): Amanda compares quote editing to creating a sculpture. “[Editing] is about finding those beautiful core statements then artfully shaping the surrounding context to help the speaker sound their best,” she says.

In the above examples, option 1 used ellipses to connect related ideas, and option 2 gave an overview of the quote without keeping the speaker’s lengthy, less-related story. These approaches allowed us to summarize the anecdote (or remove it altogether) to maintain the speaker’s meaning while keeping the flow and the voice of the content.

5. Use audience knowledge as a barometer for ‘inside baseball’ terms

Every industry has favorite abbreviations. And for those in the know — especially subject matter experts like those you quote — it’s natural to use these shortcuts in conversation.

But when editing quotes, it’s important to consider your reader. You know best whether an acronym like M&A is second nature to your audience, or whether it will be helpful to clarify that your speaker meant “merger and acquisition” on first reference — and beyond.

If you do choose to clarify in brackets the full meaning of a speaker’s abbreviation within the quote, you may use the acronym moving forward — again, depending on your audience.

6. Odd idiom? Find another way to say it

Sometimes speakers use phrases that colloquially reference concepts that are actually trademarked. Maybe they jokingly mention pressing Staples’s signature “Easy button,” casually call a product one of Oprah’s favorite things or say that something with industry signoff has “the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.” You should tread lightly in these cases: Unless the speaker was referring to the actual recognition itself, consider replacing the phrase with a more generic term when quoting.

In other cases, a speaker might unintentionally refer to socially charged issues.

For instance, your speaker might explain that you should have a welcoming, inclusive work environment and refer to this as creating a “Me Too culture.” But because “Me Too” has come to refer to the social movement against sexual harassment in the workplace, you are better off not to directly quote the speaker’s terminology.

If it’s possible to quote around the phrase, use brackets and ellipses to avoid potentially hot-button or ambiguous language. If not, look for another quote where the speaker summed up the same concept using a different example or analogy.

(And if all else fails, just look at the next tip.)

7. When in doubt, summarize

From time to time, we’ve all come across a quote where the speaker expresses great ideas but where the language and/or wording of the quote detracts from what has been said.

If transitional phrases or edits for conciseness are still making a particular quote a challenging read, your best bet is to paraphrase. Move away from quoting directly and write out the speaker’s thoughts more clearly.

If the idea is subjective and opinionated, you’ll likely want to attribute it to the speaker in some way. But if you’re dealing with impartial or factual information, you might not need to attribute that particular statement to the speaker (although it should be implied that they said it).

Be sure that the paraphrased wording maintains the speaker’s meaning, but expresses the idea in a way that works best for the piece and for the reader.

Now, go forth and quote!

Now, for the fun part! Once you’ve zeroed in on those incredible quotes and fine-tuned them to perfection, you’re ready to use them in articles, social media posts and more.

Jaclyn Schiff
May 15, 2024
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