LawProse Lesson #307: Minimizing block quotations.

LawProse Lesson #307: Minimizing block quotations.

It’s well known that readers tend to skip block quotations. This results partly from writers’ habit of failing to introduce them properly, and partly from readers’ skepticism about the applicability of others’ words to the problem at hand, especially if those words are numerous. If you quote in chunks of under 50 words, and you don’t block off the quotations, they’re both less imposing and harder to skip. And you’re more likely to integrate the points they’re making into your commentary. This isn’t to say that you’ll never again use block quotations. But you’ll certainly reduce your reliance on them. Try to either radically shorten block quotations or eliminate block quotations by cutting them in half—so that fewer than 50 words are quoted at a time. With each block quotation, first ensure that you’ve led into it properly, preferably with a full assertion in your own words preceding the colon. Then check to see whether every word in the quotation is necessary or helpful to your point. Excise those that aren’t, either fore and aft (easily done) or in the middle (necessitating an ellipsis). Then see whether there’s a natural breaking point in the middle of the quotation, perhaps where an ellipsis now appears. Look for an emphatic word that might end the first quotation and put an end quote there. Finally, provide your own linking words to lead into the second part of the quotation—which now becomes a full-fledged quotation of its own. The linkage might be as simple as, “The court went on to observe that . . . .” Now you’ve completed a valuable task.

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