Quotation Skills

Rarely does the perfect quotation offer itself up for us to use right “out of the box.” Sources are notorious for phrasing their remarks awkwardly, or in ways that don’t fit into the sentences we had planned for them, or for leaving out essential details we need to make our claims complete. We may be tempted to abandon the source because it “doesn’t have a quote” we can us.

But the authors of the several sources we’re looking at today, all of them making arguments about the Mormons’ practice of baptizing their dead ancestors, most of them trying to connect Mitt Romney to the practice, all of them offering evidence that Elie Wiesel wants Romney to pressure the Church of Latter Day Saints to stop baptizing dead Holocaust victims, are not discouraged that Wiesel never quite makes his demand directly. Instead, they use a variety of techniques to frame the words Wiesel does say to persuade readers that he has made very specific statements.

The practice of framing quotes can be abused, of course, and there are examples here of such abuse. But placing quoted material in a clear context is an essential function of good writing that honest writers can use with honor.

The sources are not academic today. The background piece from the LDS Church is a legitimate primary source. The Washington Post is reliable enough (though its tactics can be suspect). The blog material from the Huffington Post is what you might expect from a popular commercial website. The craft of shaping quotes is apparent in all of them though, so we can learn from their example. You’ll find them as the Mormon Baptism cluster in the Reading List category in the sidebar.

I’ll offer just one example here as a reminder of the dozens I’m showing in class today. Andrea Stone for the Huffington Post got the interview with Elie Wiesel, and apparently was unable to get him to say in one sentence what he wanted Mitt Romney to do about the Church of Latter Day Saints baptizing dead Holocaust victims. For her piece, Stone crafted a sentence that said what she needed to communicate and spliced in just enough of Wiesel’s actual conversation with her to give the “quote” the ring of legitimacy. If we’re not paying close attention, we might actually think Wiesel was the author of the entire statement, but he wasn’t.

Elie Wiesel, the Holocaust survivor who has devoted his life to combating intolerance, says Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney “should speak to his own church and say they should stop” performing posthumous proxy baptisms on Jews.

I don’t mean to suggest Stone is misleading us, but we can’t really be sure without a tape or transcript of her interview.

Your brief assignment, given verbally in class (and finished by many of you during the class period) is to craft a similar hybrid statement in which you frame a bit of quoted material to make it persuasive of your interpretation of what the original intended. Use the Mormon Church’s Backgrounder as the source material for your quotation.

If you missed class, I suggest you read the posts of your classmates for a better understanding of how to proceed.

After-class addendum:
The corollary technique is to insert material in brackets within the quote to flesh out the grammar or provide missing proper names or pronouns. Good readers recognize bracketed material as the author’s material, not part of the original quote. Like framing, bracketing can be abused, but it’s helpful and innocent in good hands.

Bracketing example
Suppose Wiesel had said

As the country’s most recognizable and powerful Mormon, he has an obligation to speak to the leaders and tell them they should stop performing posthumous baptisms on Jews.

In the context of his entire conversation, the request might be quite clear, but because while talking Wiesel doesn’t have to be specific in each sentence, the interviewer/author might deliver the missing specifics in this way:

As the country’s most recognizable and powerful Mormon, [Mitt Romney] has an obligation to speak to the leaders [of the LDS Church] and tell them they should stop performing posthumous baptisms on Jews.

About davidbdale

Inventor of and sole practitioner of 299-word Very Short Novels. www.davidbdale.wordpress.com
This entry was posted in Assignments, David Hodges, Professor Posts, Quotation Skills. Bookmark the permalink.

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