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The Art of Accurate Attribution: Quick Tips for Writers

As amazing a tool as the internet is, we all know that the information we find there is not necessarily accurate. And just because someone posts a photo with a quote next to it does not mean the person pictured actually said it—or anything remotely close to it.

Quotations can be an effective way to add emphasis to one’s writing. So how can writers ensure their quotations are accurate?


  • Go directly to the source. Websites that feature collections of quotations are notoriously unreliable. So if, while browsing the internet, you see a Mark Twain quote that beautifully illustrates your point, go to the original book/article/etc. by Twain to verify its accuracy.


  • Use a quote verification site. A reputable verification site like Quote Investigator can help you determine whether a well-known quotation is truly accurate.


  • Don’t rely on conventional wisdom.  But "everyone knows" that Einstein said, "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result." It’s amazing how often everyone is wrong. (In this instance, the “definition of insanity” quote first appeared in a Narcotics Anonymous pamphlet in the 1980s.)


Using misattributed or downright false quotations is a quick way to lose credibility with readers—the opposite of their intended effect. It’s well worth a few extra minutes to ensure that any quotes used in your writing are correct, both in what they say and in who really said them.

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