Writers. We’re creative people. We’re our own bosses. No flimsy cubicle walls can hold our high-flying, freedom-loving spirits.
We set our own hours, follow our own passions, and write what we know. And while we generally agree that we should write every day, if for no other reason than to prime the pump, we’re not too keen on rules in general. You can’t tell us what to do.
And I like that about us. I think it’s admirable.
But when it comes to Medium’s quotation feature, our independence is getting in the way of clarity. If you’re a regular reader, you know exactly what I mean. There’s a jarring lack of consistency in writers’ use of the tool.
If you’re a regular writer, you’re probably thinking something like, “Make me. Just try and make me play by the rules. I’m an artist. Why don’t you go lecture ee cummings about capitalization, ya grammar Nazi you?”
Oh dear. I’m afraid we’ve gotten off on the wrong foot. Let me try again.
What I meant to say is that communication requires a shared language. If we can agree on the meaning of words and the use of punctuation and formatting guidelines, we’ll do a better job of conveying what we want to say. That’s part of mastering our craft.
ee cummings knew proper names should be capitalized and he deliberately broke that rule for a purpose. You’re free to do the same. Break the rules for quotation formats if you’ve got a good reason to do so.
Just don’t do it because you didn’t know any better.
Speaking of language
Maybe some definitions are in order. You already know the Medium quotation tool gives us two options. Click once, and you get a blockquote format. Click twice, and you get a pull quote.
The two quotation types are easily confused. They’re like the homophones of the punctuation world.
Here’s how you can tell them apart.
Blockquotes are just what they sound like they’d be; they’re presented in a block — usually, at least four lines long, and the material inside them is quoted, meaning you are borrowing words that originally came from someone else.
Blockquotes look like this.
You don’t quote yourself in a blockquote unless you’re quoting from a source other than the one you’re currently writing. That would be sort of like talking about yourself in the 3rd person. It’s weird.
Pull quotes, on the other hand, are pulled from the article in which they’re found, the article that you are writing. You’re quoting your own words in a pull quote, and you’ll find them again somewhere else within the text.
Pull quotes look like this.
We pull quotes from our articles to highlight an especially juicy or important part of the story. Pull quotes are a graphic element; they add interest, to the delight of our dopamine-loving brains. And they break up the text to make the article more readable.
Either form can improve your writing, the blockquote by presenting another perspective and clearly acknowledging authorship, the pull quote by piquing readers’ curiosity and luring them into your tale. But if you’re going to accomplish these goals, you’ll have to adhere to form.
Here are some tips that can help.
Make sure the pull quote has been pulled from your article
Pull quotes are sometimes used just to change the appearance of the text. Writers usually place these pull-quote formatted passages (that aren’t really pull quotes at all) at the beginning of a section or a paragraph, just as I’ve done here.
I guess writers do this to spice up their story’s appearance. And if that is your intention, my advice is to use a photo instead.
As a reader, I often skip right over text that’s been formatted as a pull quote. That’s because I expect it to actually be a pull quote and I don’t like to read the same sentence twice.
Then sometimes, I’ll realize I’ve missed a point the writer was trying to make. When that happens, I’ll go back and read the larger print of the pull quote to see if I can fill in the gaps.
But if the same thing happens again, I’ll probably give up and skip on over to the next story.
Life’s too short.
Position your pull quote with some distance between it and the same passage within the text
Pull quotes are repetitions of something you’ve said or something you’re going to say. They should not be repetitions of something you’ve just said or something you’re going to say now.
“Pull quotes are repetitions of something you’ve said or something you’re going to say. They should not be repetitions of something you’ve just said or something you’re going to say now.”
See what I mean? If you have a cellphone, you already know that an echo doesn’t make the conversation more interesting. It interrupts the flow of communication.
So why would you do that to your readers?
Use compelling pull quotes sparingly
The pull quote is a teaser. It’s there to convert skimmers to readers. It should captivate your audience and showcase your best work.
Overuse dilutes its power, so save it for one or two of the ideas you wouldn’t want readers to miss.
Omit quotation marks inside the blockquote format
Quotation marks can be used for pull quotes since they work as graphic features. If punctuation adds to the visual appeal of your pull quote, go ahead and add it.
However, you don’t need quotation marks in a blockquote. The form itself tells readers that you’re using someone else’s words. You’ll get a cleaner appearance by omitting the punctuation.
Include a link to your source
Yes, the blockquote format should convey exactly what was said. But readers should also be able to check for accuracy and to access the original for more information if they wish.
Help them to do that. You’ve got nothing to hide.
Sometimes you don’t need either
According to SmashingMagazine.com, a “blockquote is a large quotation.” When you’re using a short quotation from another source, just blend it into your narrative as in the SmashingMagazine quote above. That will make for a smoother read.
There you have it, the ultimate guide to Medium’s quotation tool
Using these guidelines will help to turn you into the skillful, polished writer you always knew you could be.
You can quote me on that.