Notes & Quotes The Voice Handbook
The Voice Stylebook
Morgue (2008-2011)
Morgue (2003-2008)
Indices: Author | Subject


Reporters must keep copies of their notes throughout the semester. In circumstances where your legitimacy or intent is questioned, it's advisable to have a copy of your notes to prove the authenticity of factual matters and quotes.


All reporters who are writing in-depth or sensitive stories are encouraged to use a tape recorder.  If you are covering a speech at which a prominent person is speaking, asking permission to place your tape recorder on the podium may be a good idea. 

In general, however, it is never a good idea to rely totally on a tape recorder. Transcribing the tape increases the time required to write a story, and tape recorders have been known to fall prey to mechanical malfunctions. 

Always ask permission to tape an interview. In person, once you have asked permission and begun taping, ask again so the person’s answer is on tape. On the telephone, begin the conversation by asking permission so the question, and the answer, is one tape. 


Reporters should make every effort to persuade sources to allow names to be used in news stories. Only when there is a compelling reason not to use the name should exceptions be made. In any case, the decision to use an unnamed source must be made in consultation with the adviser, editor-in-chief and managing editor. 

Reporters should be extremely leery of accepting information “off the record,” especially information directly associated with official university business.  In general, do not allow sources to go “off the record.”  It is, in the hands of skilled sources, an effective method of immobilizing the reporter while giving the illusion of cooperating with the press.  The best response, in most cases, is to say “I’m sorry.  I believe that is an important story, but if you can not give me information on the record, I’d prefer you did not tell me at all.”  In many cases, perhaps most, the source will ultimately go on the record, and the reporter should encourage him/her to do so.  Keep in mind, it is a rare piece of information that is known to only one source. 

Incidentally, reporters should be a source can only give information “off the record” if he/she does so before that information is communicated to the reporter.  If the source tells you something after telling you, “Oh, by the way, that’s off the record,” you are in no way bound not to print the information you have been given.  Simply inform your source communications can not be placed off the record after the fact. 

Stories that do not name the source should indicate as much as possible about the source – occupation, department, membership on a relevant committee, etc. 

  1. Always use the correct verb of attribution — "said" functions better than most. It is neutral, i.e. it does not carry the point-of-view connotations other verbs (see below), and unobtrusive, meaning the reader doesn't notice if it is used over and over.
  2. Join direct quotations to the speaker. Don't make the reader guess about the source.
    • WRONG: Bush gave a warning. "Iraq's time is up."
    • RIGHT: "Iraq's time is up," Bush said.
  3. Attribution can be overdone.
    • WRONG: "We have heard Bin Laden's voice," Powell said. "We know he is linked with Iraq," he continued. "We will defeat them both," he added.
    • RIGHT: "We have heard Bin Laden's voice," Powell said. "We know he is linked with Iraq. We will defeat them both."
  4. Start the paragraph with the direct quotation; do not bury it within the paragraph. Quotations have their own paragraph as a rule.
  5. Do not stutter-quote:
    • WRONG: Powell said Bin Laden is linked with Iraq, but the United States would defeat both enemies. "We have heard Bin Laden's voice," Powell said. "We know he is linked with Iraq. We will defeat them both."
    • RIGHT: "We have heard Bin Laden's voice," Powell said. "We know he is linked with Iraq. We will defeat them both."
  6. Generally, attribution should follow a subject-verb sequence [the governor said, rather than said the governor].
    • Exception: use the reverse order if you use a clause to describe the speaker [said the governor, who is not running for re- election].
  7. Generally, put attribution at the end of the sentence, rather than at the beginning. The idea is that the news should come first, then the source. There are a couple of exceptions:
    • If a quote [direct or paraphrase] is more than one sentence long, the attribution should follow the first sentence of the quote.
      Quote blocks shouldn't run more than two paragraphs and should be separated by a transition. However, don't repeat the information of the quote.
    • Put the attribution at the beginning of the sentence if it is necessary for clarity. If, for example, you are writing a story with multiple sources, you may want to put the attribution at the beginning of the sentence to signal to the reader that someone new is being quoted.
    • On rare occasions, it is the speaker that is the news and it's permissible to use attribution first [The president said he is glad to be in Ohio.]
  8. Quotation marks indicate to the reader that you are using the exact words that were spoken or written. So make sure the exact words are used. Use direct quotes when the speaker says something especially well, uses colorful language or expresses an opinion. Also use direct quotes in any other instance where it is important to tell the reader that the words are exactly as spoken or written.
  9. Use indirect quotes [paraphrase] for clarity and brevity and to pass on routine information.
  10. News is always written in PAST tense (e.g. attribution is said, not says). It's tempting as a starting writer to want to use verbs of attribution besides said. DON'T! The following explain why.
  • Said simply indicates words were spoken or written. It says nothing about the way the words were spoken, the circumstances of the utterance, or the attitude of the speaker. The word is a modest one, never calling attention to itself. It can be used repeatedly without disruption to the writing. Consequently, there are few real substitutes for said. There are words you can use in its place, however, when it is proper for you to do so.

  • Explain means more facts are being added to make something more understandable. It can be a neutral synonym for said, but it must be used in the right context. It is incorrect to write: "Tee Martin is our current quarterback," he explained. It would be correct to use explain as the verb of attribution for the following sentence: "The quarterback is the team's most important position," he explained. Better yet, recall the line: "Shut up," he explained.

  • Point out means to call attention to a matter of fact. A speaker can point out fire burns, but a journalist should not write: "The student leader pointed out that the president was lenient on the fraternity." That statement is an opinion, not fact.

  • Relate means to pass along fact. It implies an absence of opinion on the part of the speaker.
  • State should be used for formal speeches or announcements such as the State of the Union address in January. It is incorrect to write: "Jordan stated that the party would begin at 8:30 p.m."

  • Declare and assert also imply formality, though assert shows an intesity on the part of the speaker.

  • Add indicates more facts or comment about the smae subject or an afterthought, a comment less important than what has been said before. It is incorrect to write: "She said she was unable to finish her paper. 'My computer crashed,' she added."

  • Revealed or disclosed are suitable only when referring to something previously unknown or concealed. The words also suggest the reporter believes the assertion.

  • Believe, think and feel indicate mental processs, i.e. states known only to the speaker of the sentence. Unless you're in someone's body, there's no way to truly know what a person thinks, feels or believes.

  • Exclaim means to cry out in surprise or sudden emotion. It can easily be overused, so writers should be careful. It is usually written with an exclamation point. It is incorrect to use as follows: "The class will start at 8 a.m.," he exclaimed.
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    Revised 081912 —