Global communications in English
English tips

Quoting – the multi-paragraph rule

Quotation marksIn an interview article, it’s important that readers are never in any doubt as to who said what: is the interviewer (or narrator) speaking, or are these the words of the interviewee? And the problem naturally gets more complex if several people are being interviewed. One of the more subtle ways writers in English guide their readers through an interview is by using punctuation.

In this article, we explain and exemplify what to do if a passage quoting the interviewee extends over more than one paragraph. It involves a rule that many native speakers are not consciously aware of, but which journalists, editors and publishers know and apply regularly.

When quoting someone in an article, it is normal practice to put quotation marks at the beginning and the end of the quoted remarks. But what do we do when the quotation extends over two (or more) paragraphs? For the sake of illustration, let’s assume that we’re interviewing someone called Fred about dealing with long quotations.

Fred reveals all
In English, says Fred, a paragraph boundary is a substantial break. It often indicates a change of topic, and is shown visually by a blank line or a line break and indentation. It is at just such a moment that a new speaker might well come into the picture, or that the narrator might resume the story.

It is therefore important that readers don’t get confused about who is speaking in the new paragraph – the original speaker, someone new or the narrator?

To solve this problem, both UK and US English have adopted the following technique.

  • To indicate the original speaker is still talking, the first paragraph is left open: no closing quotation marks are placed.
  • To indicate that we are still dealing with quoted material rather than the narrator’s prose, quotation marks are placed at the beginning of the second paragraph.

In other words, when dealing with quotations that extend over more than one paragraph, you need to put quotation marks at the beginning of each paragraph but at the end only of the final one.

Comments are closed.

© 2013 - Baxter Communications | Hilversum - NL