Don’t be a blockhead about your block quotations.

March 3, 2014

in Style and usage, Writing advice

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I don’t know about you, but when I come across a block quotation — in a memo, a brief, or in passing on the street — my eyelids get heavy and my head droops. Wake me up when it’s over. Most readers have the same reaction.

So what’s a legal writer to do? You can minimize your use of block quotations but you shouldn’t eliminate them altogether. Sometimes you need to provide the full language of a pertinent rule or provision; sometimes you need to use a block quotation to convey the full context or tone of a ruling.

platterHere’s the key: If you have a good reason for including a block quotation in your writing, make sure you introduce the quote in a way that makes its relevance obvious.

Let’s say your client, Creditco, is involved in a contract dispute with Marketco, which Creditco hired to market credit card products. And let’s say you are making the point that the contract with Marketco was not exclusive—that Creditco had the right to contract with other marketing firms.

Most writers would introduce the relevant provision of the contract like this:

The Agreement explicitly provided:

Products to be sold are those which may be offered for sale by Creditco, including but not limited to credit card products. Creditco at any time may, in its sole discretion, enter contractual agreements with other companies in addition to Marketco for the purpose of marketing and selling Creditco’s credit card products, including those products that are the subject of this Agreement.

Here’s a more effective, useful lead-in to the relevant contractual language:

blockhead

The Agreement explicitly gives Creditco the right to hire another marketing firm at any time:

Products to be sold are those which may be offered for sale by Creditco, including but not limited to credit card products. Creditco at any time may, in its sole discretion, enter contractual agreements with other companies in addition to Marketco for the purpose of marketing and selling Creditco’s credit card products, including those products that are the subject of this Agreement.

Your goal is basically to introduce the quoted language so thoroughly that the reader doesn’t need to actually read the quote itself to get your point. Those readers who skim block quotes will still take away your point, while those rare, diligent readers who do read every word will be satisfied that you characterized the contract fairly.

Yes, writing concisely is critical. But this is one area where it’s okay to be a little redundant. When you include a block quotation, make the effort to take your information — whether you’re persuading, explaining or analyzing—and serve it up on silver platter so that even sleepy, distracted readers will take it in.

  • Kathleen M. Walker

    Great tip. Next time I use block quotes, I will be a bit redundant.

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