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The Power and Effect of a Good Quote

Updated on August 25, 2019
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As a writer, Lori seeks to hone her craft by reading and learning from other authors.

A good quote can pack a profound punch for me when I read an essay, article, or hear a speech or sermon. I love choruses to songs, Bible verses, proverbs, some idioms, euphemisms (within reason), lines of poetry and other one-liner literary devices, many of which can qualify as quotes. For some reason, they implant themselves in my head and my heart and are easier to recall. I wish I could remember a whole song, but only the chorus stays in my memory.

Quotes that resonate with me come to mind time and time again when I need to remember its message. It may inspire, encourage, motivate, or clarify something important.

I have a treasure trove of quotes and save them in a document on my computer. I don't remember every quote I like verbatim, but the message is there and that's when I look them up and drink them in. I love it when I stumble across a quote that speaks to what I am experiencing at that moment of time. I use them once in a while in my writing,

Throughout this artice I have randomly posted some quotes I like on different topics.

The task of the modern educator is not to cut down jungles but to irrigate deserts."

— C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man” (1943)

Who Are the Most Quoted People?

The Yale Book of Quotations offers this list of the most quoted people, many of them authors:

  1. William Shakespeare
  2. The Holy Bible
  3. Mark Twain
  4. Ambrose Bierce
  5. Winston Churchill
  6. F. Scott Fitzgerald
  7. Groucho Marx
  8. George Orwell
  9. Dorothy Parker
  10. H. L. Mencken
  11. W. H. Auden
  12. Woody Allen
  13. John F. Kennedy
  14. John Lennon/Paul McCartney
  15. Albert Einstein
  16. Ernest Hemingway
  17. Franklin D. Roosevelt
  18. Ezra Pound
  19. W. C. Fields
  20. James Joyce
  21. Bob Dylan
  22. Oscar Hammerstein II
  23. Robert Frost
  24. Cole Porter
  25. Mae West
  26. Sigmund Freud
  27. George W. Bush
  28. Richard M. Nixon
  29. Dylan Thomas
  30. Martin Luther King, Jr.
  31. Virginia Woolf
  32. George H. W. Bush
  33. E.E. Cummings
  34. Ronald W. Reagan

I would add Gandhi and Helen Keller to the list. You might think of others yourself.

The Advantages of Using a Quote

Using a good quote in a speech, essay, or article has a lot of advantages. Here is a list:

  • It can emphasize, reinforce, and strengthen the message or an important point.
  • It gives credibility if coming from a respected authority or one who has experience with the topic.
  • Adds variety. If you're just giving information the message can get dry.
  • It can clarify and open the eyes of understanding a little wider.
  • It makes a good hook at the beginning of the speech or essay.
  • It can be used to persuade
  • It can bring amusement.
  • It gets people thinking.
  • It can resonate with people and reach them emotionally (I am not speaking of emotional manipulation).
  • It inspires and motivates.
  • It sticks in the memory.

How to Use a Quote

Quotes should be used strategically. If someone peppers their speech or work with quotes, it indicates laziness, lack of originality, and reveals they don't know how to give a message on their own merits. Here are some useful ways to use a quote:

  • First of all, learn how to use quotation marks.
  • Use them sparingly. They will carry more weight that way.
  • Always give the name of the person and/or source. If it's unknown or anonymous, say so.
  • Have a clear purpose for the quote. If quotes are used as filler or unnecessarily it weakens your work and credibility.
  • Use them in context. Don't try to make them fit an idea or point, but to support it. You can also end up looking uninformed, inept, and confuse your audience.
  • Say it accurately, verbatim, otherwise, it's not a direct quote.
  • Learn the difference between quoting, paraphrasing, common knowledge, and plagiarism.
  • Quote someone people may recognize as an expert, authority, or in some way knowledgable of the topic.
  • Use two or more credible sources to confirm the correct name and wording. Name the work the quote can be found in. Brainy Quote, Good Reads, and Wikiquote notoriously credit the wrong person for a quote. Wiki anything is a slippery slope when it comes to accurate information.
  • A good, appropriate quote is a good opener for a message or point.
  • A humorous quote can add a little color and variety to your message. They can be good illustrations.
  • Don't make them too long. People get bored and confused. Find the core point.
  • Use quotes that are easily understood. Academic writing can get bogged down with technical or lofty wording.
  • Use images with quotes sometimes. A photo of the person being quoted, or an image that gives an example of what the message in the quote can double its impact (see quote below by Alex Morritt).

Quotography is the art of pairing unique quotations with complementary images in order to express thought-provoking ideas, challenging concepts, profound sentiments'.”

— Alex Morritt, Lines & Lenses

Spare the Platitudes, Cliches, Slogans, and Common Idioms

The English language is so conditioned to cliches, platitudes, and silly idioms that it's nearly impossible to avoid them or recognize them altogether. These speech devices are tiresome, sappy, overused, plain wrong, or meaningless. Some carry a lot of truth and if we have our wits about us, we can recognize the ones that are useful. People use them to look profound, clever, inspiring, or amusing, and sometimes try to pass them off as original to them.

Most of these literary devices are common knowledge and don't need to be used as direct quotes. Depending on which one you're using, the context, the frequency, and usefulness, these can ruin your speech or written work. Not only will you look lazy and unoriginal, but a majority are also just plain stupid. There are also times when they can wound hurting people by making their tragedy or trials look trivial and with a misunderstood purpose. Here are some dumb ones:

  • "If life gives you lemons, make lemonade."
  • "One bad apple spoils the whole bunch"
  • "We're not laughing at you we're laughing with you" NOT!
  • "Fit as a fiddle." How fit is a fiddle anyway?
  • The grass is always greener on the other side." Erma Bombeck wrote a book called The Grass is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank. I much prefer hers.
  • "What doesn't kill you will make you stronger" I guess this is true but it's not comforting to someone going through hard times.
  • "Every cloud has a silver lining." No, it doesn't.

But let me leave you with my favorite cliche from the very mouth of Forrest Gump: "Stupid is as stupid does." I like it because it describes cliches.

Forrest Gump's Best


Sometimes they say I'm mad, but a grain of madness is the best of art."

— Wilhem Dafoe as Vincent van Gogh, At Eternity's Gate

Finding Reliable Quote Sources

I have given two links to websites that help you find a reliable quote and its source. But here are a few other things to consider.

You will find a gazillion popular quotes on the internet. I have used popular ones many times but until recently, when I started noticing discrepancies. I'd see a quote attributed to a certain person on A-Z quotes, and find it attributed to someone else elsewhere.The following popular quote websites are very unreliable:

  • A-Z Quotes
  • Personal Blogs
  • Brainy Quote
  • Goodreads (sometimes they do give the source of the quotes, but not always)
  • WikiQuotes or any other Wiki website

In writing this article I spent literally hours as an exercise, trying to find reliable sources for quotes. Then I went back to some old articles I'd written on quotes on certain topics to confirm the quotes were attributed correctly.

Another way you can possibly find the source of a quote is to put the quote in google search (if you already have it) and sometimes that will take you to a reliable source or narrow it down. I found that oftentimes it took me to google books and showed the literal page it was on.

Sometimes I googled in the name of the person quoted followed by archives or official website. So if I wanted a quote by Billy Graham or to find the exact source that it was written, I put in "Billy Graham Official Website" which took me to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

The links below will give a lot more details.

Do you ever use quotes in your writing or in speeches?

See results

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2019 Lori Colbo


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