How to be quotable

September 19, 2022

When a reporter reaches out and asks an expert to meet for an interview, they are looking for both basic factual information about the subject and vibrant quotes that add color to their story.

The factual information discussed during an interview — including statistics, timelines, logistics and research results — will often be included in the article, but will typically be paraphrased by the journalist in an effort to keep the information concise and easy to understand.

In contrast, a journalist will usually reserve their expert quotes for the portion of the conversation that is not purely fact-based. Instead, quotes are typically used to reflect emotion, share practical examples that illustrate a broader point, describe a visual that helps the audience feel embedded in the experience, or explain succinctly how the work or research impacts the broader public.

How can this knowledge help you prepare for a better interview?

Understanding what reporters want out of a quote helps you develop talking points that include the vibrant language reporters are seeking.

  1. Think about what emotional key-words you could include when discussing the most significant findings from your latest research study. Consider adding words like concerning, upsetting, surprising or exciting when talking about your work, and explaining why you feel that way. If adding personal emotion doesn’t make sense in your situation, emphasizing the significance of an event or research can have a similar impact.

    Here is an example from Megan Walsh, visiting clinical professor of law, speaking with KARE 11 about the proposed bipartisan gun deal.

    "This is a big deal, especially considering we're in a really partisan political environment," Walsh said. "Legislation is proposed all the time but nothing has happened in years. It's been over 25 years since Congress has passed significant firearms legislation."

  2. Think about how descriptive visuals could illustrate the impact of your findings.

    Here is an example from Peter Reich, a professor in CFANS, speaking with The Guardian about his research on climate change and forests.

    “Given how fast climate change is, we could get a 50 to 150 year period where spruce and fir over thousands of miles, including from Siberia to Scandinavia, don’t regenerate, so you’ll have this strange new system of invasive shrubs that won’t provide us with the economic and ecological services we are used to,” Reich said.

  3. Develop some concrete examples that might make your point resonate with the general public.

    Here’s an example from George John, a professor in the Carlson School of Management, speaking to KFGO about shrinkflation.

    “If you go look at Honey Bunches of Oats right now you’ll see that the package is that wee bit narrower and the amount of stuff in it has gone down by an ounce, a couple of ounces.”

Preparing these kinds of talking points, in addition to the basic factual information about your work, will help a reporter share your story in a way that will better connect with the general public.