Chapter 5: News Writing Basics

29 Attribution

Indicate the source(s) of the information presented in the article through attribution, which typically takes the form of paraphrases as well as direct and indirect quotes. Attribution is very important in media writing, as it helps to establish an objective tone and adds credibility to an article (Harrower, 2012). Attribution also explains how the writer retrieved the information and why a particular source was quoted. Most of a story’s major information should be attributed, through phrases such as “she said” or “according to a recent report.”

Attribution can be placed at the beginning of a sentence to introduce information or added after a statement. Pay close attention to verb tense and choice when attributing sources. For example, the most common verbs used for attributing human sources are “said,” “stated,” and “asked.” For records or documents, use “reported,” “claimed,” and “stated.” Direct quotes should be surrounded by quotation marks and include the source’s exact words. Paraphrased statements and indirect quotes should not be placed in quotation marks.

Here are examples of attributed statements:

  • “The libraries are usually crowded and filled with students around this time in the semester,” said Laura Sykler, a sophomore at The Ohio State University.
  • A heavy cloud of smog hung over the city Wednesday, National Weather Service officials said.
  • According to a statement from the White House, the president will announce his pick for the vacant Supreme Court seat on Monday.

When initially referencing a human source, include the person’s full name. Use only the last name for subsequent references. Click on this CNN article for an example.

Include important qualifiers with the first reference to demonstrate that the source has expertise on the topic. For example:

  • “Using Twitter in the classroom actually enhances student engagement,” Jasmine Roberts, strategic communication lecturer at The Ohio State University, said.

Notice that the direct quote with attribution uses the qualifier “strategic communication lecturer at The Ohio State University” to indicate the source’s credibility.

Qualifiers are also used to explain a source’s relevance to the topic. The following example might be used in a news article reporting on a crime.

  • “It was just complete chaos in the store. The police were trying very hard to catch the shoplifter,” eyewitness Angela Nelson said.

The qualifier “eyewitness” helps to establish Nelson’s relevance to the narrative.

Finally, attribution should flow well within the story. Avoid using long qualifiers or awkward phrases.

License

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Attribution by Jasmine Roberts is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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