If you’ve ever wondered about the roles played by quotes in white papers, I can tell you as a professional white paper writer that quotations are a source of anxiety for many people. I’m not sure, but I think it results from (barely) surviving seventh-grade English and later learning plagiarism could get us tortured.

Including quotations, and I’ll switch to the more colloquial version of the word family, quotes in white papers may be a powerful addition if the person being quoted is a recognized expert in the industry or in a key role at a well-known company.

Quotes in white papers lend expertise

Everybody in the industry knows Mike Reiser, right? The guy who’s forgotten more than you’ll ever have a shot at knowing? When something in your white paper is in his words, you’ve gained an implied endorsement. Even if he’s simply stating facts, his willingness to lend his words to your white paper is him saying you’re good. So instead of you describing the roadblocks to increased productivity, get him to do it. With a recorder on, ask him to describe it in his words. Then include those words as quotes in your white paper.

Quotes in white papers provide proof

A particularly effective way to use quotes in white papers is to share the words of a satisfied customer or an industry expert about your product or service. You can tell the someone the story of how your product helped Perky Produce boost productivity by 24-freaking-percent, or you can simply share what Paul Perky, Jr. has to say about it. Which do you think will be more meaningful to a white paper reader? When you include a full-length testimonial or some random statements, quotes make your message more credible.

Can you change quotes in white papers?

Can you change the words somebody else has spoken when you plan to quote those words? The obvious answer would be no, but that’s also the wrong answer, unless you’re trying to change the meaning of what the speaker said. Most of us don’t speak with perfect grammar, but nobody notices that until we put it down in writing. Making minor edits can protect the speaker by making them sound as intelligent as they really are. (But that doesn’t mean you should eliminate the minor quirks everyone associates with the speaker.) Make a crusty farmer sound like a literature professor, and nobody will buy it.

Quote or plagiarism?

There’s often confusion about what constitutes plagiarism and what is allowable as a quote. Plagiarism and quotes are two very different things. Plagiarism is simply using someone else’s words and claiming them as your own. If I saw something I liked in an email newsletter or a social media post, I generally can’t take those exact words, put them in something else, and then claim I had been the writer. A quote, on the other hand, is a recounting of the exact words spoke or wrote about something else. Of course, if you claim someone else’s quote as your own, that would be a form of plagiarism.

What’s the big deal about plagiarism?

Maybe you’ve used other people’s or organization’s words in your own materials or communications efforts, and you may wonder why I think it’s such a big deal. When you reprinted that story from Veeblefetzer Industry Report in your company’s newsletter, you put their name at the bottom. How’s that illegal?

In simple terms, you’ve taken somebody else’s property and used it without their permission.

Companies and other organizations pay me to create articles, ads, brochures, website content, and blog posts. That’s how I earn my living.

People who have used things I’ve written without my permission have thought they were doing me a favor by giving my words a bigger audience. But that doesn’t give them a right to make that decision on my behalf or to use my work without proper compensation.

What I write belongs to me (or my clients, in the case of what’s known as work for hire). Other people have as much right to use my words without my permission as I have to walk into their homes and walk out with their home theater systems. I might refer to that act as complimenting their taste in home electronics; they’d call it simple theft. And that’s exactly what it would be.

Sometimes, those who have used other’s words without permission cite a concept called “fair use.” While that concept does exist, it’s widely misunderstood. The basic idea behind fair use is that you can reuse material without copyright infringement for certain purposes, such as commenting upon it or developing a formal critique.

Suppose you’re a high school English teacher who wants students to understand how playwrights employ dialogue to advance a plot. You reprint several lines from a David Mamet play to illustrate the idea. That’s fair use. Use the school’s copier to reprint the entire play so your school didn’t have to buy copies, and you’ve crossed into infringement.

Suppose you were writing a post for your own blog and wanted to share an idea I’ve mentioned in this article. You could quote me by reprinting a sentence or a short paragraph, and you’d be okay under fair use. Reprint this entire article without asking, or take a paragraph from it and claim it as your own writing, and you’ve violated the law. Copying the full length or a substantial part of something almost never falls under fair use.