Everything of importance has been said before by somebody who did not discover it. ~Alfred North Whitehead
A great quotation is gold to a perceptive writer. You can instantly boost reader engagement with the right bit of wisdom or wit. And when writing to persuade, you can bolster your arguments by pointing to the words of the well regarded.
In other words, author Anatole France nailed it with this:
When a thing has been said and well, have no scruple. Take it and copy it.
Using Quotations to Increase Engagement
After all, all he did was string together a lot of old, well-known quotations. ~H. L. Mencken on Shakespeare
Hey, if it’s good enough for Shakespeare, it’s good enough for me. And while we should all do our best to engage readers with our own wit and wisdom, it never hurts to share the spotlight with those who have already said it well.
A great quotation is like a smart anecdote or analogy… it engages the mind in a way that the same point directly made does not. That reader mindset is the tipping point between attention and indifference.
Whether you use a quotation to open strong or sprinkle them throughout your writing, an excellent quotation tends to get read, even by scanners. And when the point is poignant, you transform that scanner into a reader. People want to see how well you stand on the shoulders of giants.
So what’s the secret to the effective use of quotations?
One must be a wise reader to quote wisely and well. ~Amos Bronson Alcott
Using Quotations in Persuasive Writing
A quotation in a speech, article or book is like a rifle in the hands of an infantryman. It speaks with authority. ~Brendan Francis
Again, we’re looking to build our own authority with our readers. But no matter your level of influence, you can always bolster a persuasive point by directing the reader to a respected authority who shares your views on a subject.
This works wonders when trying to make a point that may be hard for some to accept. After all, I may know that creativity is inspired from the things around us and the work of others, but who’s going to argue with Picasso?
Authoritative quotations provide mental shortcuts to acceptance. If you want someone to accept what you’re saying, quotations allow you to tap into the mind’s tendency to seek the path of least resistance. It’s often easiest to believe a famous historical figure in order to believe you, so take advantage of the authority of others to build your own.
People will accept your ideas much more readily if you tell them Benjamin Franklin said it first. ~David H. Comins
It Still Comes Down to You in the End
I hate quotations. Tell me what you know. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson
I suspect Ralph was having a bad day when he said that, but he has a point. All the quotations in the world won’t help unless you’ve got something to say as well.
But you know that.
So let’s assume you’ve got something to say, and you know to say it well. But don’t forget to get your quote on to kick up the engagement and authority on command.
Here are three quotation resources for you:
The Quotations Page
Plus, in my never-ending quest to produce worthy content in 140 characters or less on Twitter, I’ve started tweeting quotes on a daily basis. Follow me on Twitter for a random sampling of interesting quotations that might inspire you to write (it’s happened to at least two people who follow me).
So… what’s your favorite quotation? Share in the comments!
About the Author: Brian Clark is the founding editor of Copyblogger, and co-founder of Teaching Sells.
Reader Comments (71)
Always liked this one:
“Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the former.” ~Albert Einstein
Bucktowndusty @ FromThePen.com says
“Don’t piss down my leg and call it rain.” ~ Judge Judy
Michael Martine | Remarkablogger says
Love the zen image for the post. I’ve noticed the quotes on Twitter and enjoy them very much. Here’s a favorite of mine, by science fiction writer William Gibson: “The future’s already here. It’s just not evenly distributed.”
Stuart Hughes says
One of my all-time favorites has to be;
“To know what you prefer, instead of humbly saying ‘Amen’ to what the world tells you you ought to prefer, is to keep your soul alive.” – Robert Louis Stevenson
Akemi - Yes to Me says
Well, I don’t mean to make a case against you, Brian, but I agree with Emerson. When I read, I want to read the writer’s words, his or her own words, rather than the famous quotation they pull off from the quotation dictionary. When a post starts with a quotation, I usually just skip it and get to read the body of the article.
Not that I don’t respect great quotations. I have my favorites, and occasionally share them in my posts — as part of my article. But I value authenticity more than great quotations.
You, Brian, are no less than Picasso when you make your own points.
Brian Clark says
Akemi, there are always exceptions that prove the rule. Just don’t forget that what you prefer is not always what your readers prefer.
Akemi, you leave me puzzled. If you really were anti-quotations you would never use them yourself!
If any of our writing was truly memorable, then it would become a quotation after all, but ‘All that glistens is not gold’ – Shakespeare
Thanks Brian. Made a note of the sources and will try to use where applicable!
Janice Cartier says
I love quotes. Use them as touchstones.
“Chop wood carry water.”
“You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometimes you might find
You get what you need”
But here’s the most annoyingly, work making, sticky one running through my head right at the moment and all this weekend:
“Build an asset, not a job. ” – Brian Clark.
Joanna Young says
It’s a great way to invite us to follow you 🙂
James - DigitalKeyToInfo says
I wonder if Whitehead heard that from someone else?
“Wherever you, there you are.” -Buckaroo Bonzai
Don’t forget http://www.brainyquote.com/ , which sometimes has things the others don’t.
I’m a lifelong collector of great quotes. A few months ago I decided to start doing a quotation every Wednesday on my blog, related to small business and the business life. Here’s one that hasn’t made it to my pages yet (I’m saving it until I hit a magic number of readers that you passed long ago):
Just because your voice reaches halfway around the world
doesn’t mean you are wiser than when it reached
only to the end of the bar.
—Edward R. Murrow
James Chartrand - Men with Pens says
I want to say something. (Did you expect any less from me?)
Quotations – the very act of using the symbol – automatically creates a bond with a reader. The reader knows that the minute he sees quotations, a living, breathing person said something. The text suddenly becomes alive, becomes more personal.
I’ve noticed in some blogging jobs I do that adding dialogue (yes, quotes) instantly creates stickier content. People feel they’re learning something important, something intimate… they’re eavesdropping.
WHO said it doesn’t matter. Hearing it through those quotation marks matters. It brings content alive.
And if you select your quotes well, it makes you look extremely wise.
Now for my favorite:
“This too shall pass.”
Alex Cristache says
Since we’re talking about blogs and blogging, there is one thing that I’ve enjoyed and even wrote about on my blog.
From Dosh-Dosh (and I really love this one):
“Knowledge only becomes an asset when it is shared.”
It’s basically the reason why I do what I do, all in one simple sentence. This quote is a piece of future history.
Debbie. . . Virtually Organized says
I recently started a post about Maintaining an Organized Life with Thomas Edison’s quote:
“. . . I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
I like when writers start out with quotes to draw you in.
Now I’m over my quota (hehe), having already put one in, but Debbie reminded me of another favorite:
There ain’t no rules around here!
We’re trying to accomplish something!
Sheryl Schuff says
from Albert Einstein, whom I quoted frequently when homeschooling my kids…
I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution.
Brian Clark says
Sheryl, that’s always been in the running for my all time fave quote.
Einstein said a lot of smart stuff (go figure).
Patrick Sullivan Jr. says
Finding relevant quotes and connecting them to relevant material is all about being a good “idea catcher” (a phrase I *caught* from David Allen’s GTD).
PS – Brian, am I one of the two people? I think this was my first twitter-quote from an *authoritative* source:
Wow, who knew? I love quotes so use them a lot on our website and had no idea this was a good thing when I did.
You also caught my eye because of the quotes on twitter & then I read your blog and knew you were a must follow. 😉
There are so many good quotes I love, but one of my favorites is this one because it reminds me of my style of life:
“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back– Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth that ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.”
…from Scotland’s Bard – Robert Burns:
“The best-laid schemes o’ mice an ‘men Gang aft agley”
too bloody true.
Sandy Naidu says
I have a few, but today this one comes to my mind –
“Most of us are just about as happy as we make up our minds to be.” Abraham Lincoln
Oh btw..What a great way to invite people to follow you on twitter…I have seen a few blog posts on this very subject lately but this one beats the lot.
Janice Cartier says
@soultravelers3-that is my most favorite , used , taped anywhere I am, quote.
@Sheryl- THANK YOU. I had not seen that one and am copying it now. Love it and…it is beyond true.
@Kelly- thank you too for the Murrow, brilliant man.
@Brian-Kelly’s quote kind of works with karaoke 🙂
Sorry to comment twice on what is going to be another full bin of comments. So I’ll leave one more and be gone.
From a West Texas friend of mine who used to tell me…” Be careful not to knock on trouble’s door, ’cause trouble would be home. “
David at FullTiltBlogging.com says
On a slightly different note, even TV shows use quotations to make their writing seem better. For example, I can’t count how many Star Trek episodes have used Shakespeare quotes in an attempt to make an episode more profound. It works sometimes, but even the Bard couldn’t save some of the lamer episodes, lol.
This post has been featured in FullTiltBlogging.com’s Daily Blog Summary today. Great post!
Loraleigh Vance says
Brian, your posts are always full of such good information and rock solid resources. Thanks for another one.
Mark - Creative Journey Cafe says
Forgive me for shamelessly linking to my own blog, but I recently wrote a post entitled “What are your favorite quotes?” and thought you’d enjoy reading some of the terrific quotes people left in my comments section:
The Masked Millionaire says
I love reading quotes. Not only are they interesting but I always learn something from reading them.
Live From Las Vegas
The Masked Millionaire
Scott Fox, Author of Internet Riches says
Couldn’t agree more. Good quotes can concisely add authority to almost any writing or speech.
In fact, as research for my next book, I recently started a blog & mailing list dedicated specifically to sharing great quotes.
365MotivationalQuotes.com simply offers one free quote a day delivered directly to your email inbox or feedreader.
Like my books, the focus is on inspiring quotes that can help motivate entrepreneurs and small business owners to success. Many of the quotes I use were submitted by readers, including several of the great ones in the comments above.
Here’s the quote I used to kick-off the list back in March:
“A rock pile ceases to be a rock pile the moment a single man contemplates it, bearing within him the image of a cathedral.”
— Antoine de Saint-Exupery, poet and aviator
Sorry for the promo but I had to share since this post (and the comments) was so on target.
I have also added your great quote: “Build an asset, not a job.” to the list!
More submissions are very welcome at quotes @ scottfox.com. (We’ll include your name on any quotes we use, if you’d like .)
Selina N says
I have to say that when scanning sites I don’t normally follow religiously, I will always stop to look at a quote, especially if its set away from the text, evaluate whether it reflects a subject I am interested in, and read on if it is.
One of my favourite quotes is-
“How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live” – Henry David Thoreau
“We do what we have to do to do what we want to do.“
It’s a quote from The Great Debaters with Denzel I watched… I pondered it a lot and even wrote a whole post about it myself! 🙂 Good stuff!
One of my pet peeves is when people use a quote, but do not quote its source. I find it nice to be able to find out more about the person who said something profound, and particularly the circumstances under which they said it – or the events leading up to that point.
Nice article, thanks.
Marla Wieferich says
“Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.”
Ken Whitaker says
A quote of my own, in fact.
The state of the economy is inversely proportional to the quality of service at your favorite fast food restaurant.
who said “I love you” first. I love it and I love to read articles with lots of love in them.
oh, and who said:
“the more you love yourself, the more love you have to give to others”
Evelyn Lim | Attraction Mind Map says
I love quotes. I find that it is especially appropriate to use for personal development blogs, such as mine. It helps add another voice to the topic.
If you read newspaper reports, quotes are also taken off the ordinary person. What more if they came from one of a higher authority?
Of course, add them only where relevant to the discussion. They create a greater impact this way!
Akemi - Yes to Me says
I understand. And that’s always a challenge to balance out — to figure out what the readers want and deliver it vs. to write what I want to write and seek the kind of readers who like it.
I just wanted to point out that we, as writers, need to take pride in what we write. It seems to me that some writers like hiding behind “famous” quotes, and that doesn’t make interesting readings.
I am not anti-quotations. I am anti thoughtless use of quotations. . .
“Knowing what people are buying will make you a living. Knowing why they buy will make you wealthy.”
~ Stephen Pierce
Sonia Simone says
“Nothing takes the taste out of peanut butter quite like unrequited love.” –Charlie Brown
“A casual stroll through the lunatic asylum shows that faith does not prove anything.” –Friedrich Nietzsche
“The energies and powers embodied in a tiny little child are more powerful than the newly discovered energy of the atom.” –Maria Montessori
. . . and Michael Martine turned me on to this one:
“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.” –Carl Jung
Jesse Hines says
My favorite quote on writing:
“Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all sentences short, or avoid all detail and treat subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.”–William Strunk, Jr.
It’s a long quote, but to me, it sums up what good writing really is, and it’s a constant haunting voice in my ear as I write.
Shane Greenhough says
“Don’t worry what people think, they don’t do it very often.”
I have so many favourites I could create my own quotes website 🙂
But the one that always comes to mind is
“Knowing is not enough, we must apply. Willing is not enough, we must do.” – Bruce Lee
“Do or do not. There is no try.” ~Yoda
Barbara Ling says
At the End of the Tunnel
Coming at You.
Dorian aka coffeeister |_|) says
A favorite quote!? As an avid collector of quotes, I wouldn’t know where to begin. ~_^ I’ve been quoting one of my blog’s comments recently tho’: “Let the naysayers naysay, I say.” — Lorna I’m glad to see quotes being given their due & hope you inspire yet more usage (but good usage ^_^). Your tweeted quotes are what prompted me to follow you on Twitter; thanx for the gifts in text!
I use a quote to sign off on every post since the intention of my blog is to provide food for tho’t. I want to offer a takeaway as well as echo my words w/a known (or knowable – YAY for citing & links) source. While not necessarily using the quotes to pull the reader in, I am punctuating my point w/them. I also have what will become a monthly series of ‘Quotable’ posts written around themed quotes.
“A book of quotations can never be complete.” — Robert M. Hamilton
Akemi – fair enough. Afraid it didn’t come across like that at first, but I can agree with your point, although I usually find inadequate writers don’t bother to use quotations! (That includes me now I think about it.)
My personal bugbear is people who say ‘quotes’ instead of ‘quotations’. To quote is a verb while quotation is the noun … trying to be less a*nal about it but it’s like fingernails down a chalkboard to me. And that’s another thing that irritates – we can’t say ‘blackboard’ in UK schools anymore, but we can say whiteboard … Where are the producers of the ‘Grumpy Old Women’ TV show when they’re needed?!
Do or Do Not, there is no ‘try’
Casey Hibbard says
Great points. I have to agree with you and James Chartrand that quotes can make a big impact in writing. But the quotee has to be really relevant to the subject matter and audience to make that impact.
For example, in a customer case study, the customer’s actual comments are extremely powerful against the broader descriptive text. Or, quoting an analyst in a white paper likewise reinforces. Quotes stand out among the rest of the copy, while at the same time adding a punch of credibility.
My favorite, at least lately, is something like, “Nothing worth doing is ever easy.”
Mark Stelzner - Inflexion Point says
“There is nothing so powerful as truth, and often nothing so strange.” – Daniel Webster
“I’m living so far beyond my income that we may almost be said to be living apart.” – EE Cummings
Joseph Ferrara.sellsius says
It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end. ~ Ursula K. Le Guin
The map is not the territory. ~ Alfred Korzbyski
Water which is too pure has no fish. ~Ts’ai Ken T’an
I’m astounded by people who want to “know” the universe when it’s hard enough to find your way around Chinatown. ~ Woody Allen
When we built our website, I insisted on having quotations on every page. A good quotation is felt.
“An eye for eye only ends up making the whole world blind.”
Elvis K says
One of my favs regarding luck….
“The harder I work, the luckier I get” – Gary Player
Marian Hodges - Spark Action Now says
Fabulous post, Brian! One of my favorite quotes was introduced in the movie Coach Carter. It’s actually a poem by Marianne Williamson. I recommend reading the entire short inspirational poem. However, I’ve included two ‘quotes’ (beginning & ending) that inspire me.
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us…”
“…And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
I also found a great plug-in “Quote Rotator” that I added to my wordpress blog. I’ve limited the number of quotes for now but have placed a few of my favorites to help inspire me and others to take action towards our dreams.
Don’t forget my collection!
My favorite quotation on the subject of quotations is from Dorothy Parker:
“I might repeat to myself slowly and soothingly, a list of quotations beautiful from minds profound – if I can remember any of the damn things.”
Melani Ward says
“To know and not do is not to know.” – Lao Tzu
This is so true for entrepreneurs that get caught in information overload but then do nothing with what they learn. Knowledge is not power, it’s the implementation of the knowledge that can create power.
Ming Artist says
Quotes must have been the original social media. – Ming
Jorge Diaz | INNOVA PIXEL says
“A man is what he thinks about all day long.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson
I.C. Jackson says
Favorite Quote Database – http://www.bemorecreative.com/
I found this site about 12 years ago when I first started college and needed quotations for a writing assignment. The collection is so extensive and easily searchable that I haven’t used anything else since!
Favorite Quote: “No race that has anything to contribute to the markets of the world is long in any degree ostracized.” – Booker T. Washington
Love this blog!
Jorge Diaz | INNOVA PIXEL says
I once wrote an interesting post, using quotes
including the one Ralph mentions on hating quoates 🙂
Hayes Thompson says
Not sure who said it but I love this quote:
“If you believe in telepathy, raise my hand”
Quotes can help you gain insight into a chapter you’re reading. I love a good quote. Sometimes it says just what I’m feeling in a way I’d never think to say.
A favorite novelist of mine loves to use quotes at the beginning of each chapter. Unfortunately, rarely do I understand why she used the quote or what it was supposed to add to the story. And this is after reading more than 20 of her novels. She writes great stories even thought I don’t get the quotes she adds.
The key is to make sure the quote adds value and doesn’t feel random or too subtle for the reader to understand why you added it. It needs to enhance the message just like you explained in your post.
A recent favorite quote: “When a man comes to me for advice, I find out the kind of advice he wants – and I give it to him.” – Josh Billings
The other looks more like MS Sans Serif to me, but I could very well be wrong~~~
As some others have commented, it’s really nice to know the source of a
quote. LitQuotes at
http://www.litquotes.com lists a source for every quotation in its
collection. Quotes can be searched by author, topic or source.
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