This is a lesson that many journalists learn early in their careers. When you’re quoting someone, follow it with SAID. Don’t say the person OBSERVED, NOTED, COMMENTED, CONTINUED, REMARKED or anything else you can find in your thesaurus.
Keep this in mind when writing success stories, case studies or news releases.
Why do beginning journalists want to use a word other than plain ol’ SAID? My guess is that it’s because they’ve been taught to avoid repeating a word in adjacent sentences if there’s a good substitute.
For instance, a story about changes in a car model might say, “The engineers LEFT ALONE last year’s suspension. The engine remains UNTOUCHED as well.” LEFT ALONE and UNTOUCHED mean the same thing, but it would be a little less elegant to repeat LEFT ALONE in the second sentence.
So young reporters might feel compelled to use a word other than SAID following a quote. An editor at a quality publication will immediately disavow them of that idea.
Why is SAID the best option?
In a news story (and the business communications equivalents), the focus should be on its subject, not the person writing the story. SAID acts as a neutral word – a signal that the reporter is merely relaying what came out of the mouth of the person being quoted.
If you follow a quotation with OBSERVED or NOTED, it vaguely sounds like you’re endorsing the person’s point of view.
Example: “Candidate B has shifted his position on that issue,” Candidate A OBSERVED.
It’s safer just to go with SAID.
Besides, it just sounds cheesy
After hundreds of years of newspapers following the SAID rule, readers have become accustomed to looking for that word following a quotation. Anything else just seems like you’re trying a little too hard – kind of like a novice actor emoting excessively.
Wrong: “This is a breakthrough in IT technology,” REMARKED the team’s lead engineer, Snerd Snigley.
Right: “This is a breakthrough in IT technology,” SAID the team’s lead engineer, Snerd Snigley.
What if you want to distance yourself from the statement?
Sometimes a speaker will make a statement that ventures into controversial territory. Reporters occasionally will rely on phrases to signal to readers that there’s room for disagreement: ACCORDING TO, ALLEGED, CONTENDED, CONTESTED, DISAVOWED, DISPUTED, etc. While striving for neutrality regarding the quote itself, they might qualify the quote’s veracity with one of these warning-flag words.
Example: The rapper CONTENDS the earth is flat and the public has been duped into thinking it’s round. “I’m going up against the greatest liars in history,” he SAID.
Admittedly, you’re probably not going to worry about controversial statements in most business communications. But in the rare instance in which it’s necessary, look for one of these “We’re not endorsing this position” words.
SAID or SAYS?
If you’re clearly describing something that happened in the past, use SAID. If time is not important, SAYS is often a better choice. It sounds like the quotation is fresh. But don’t mix the two. Pick either the present tense or past tense and stick with it throughout.
Anything left to add?
How about ADDED? Occasionally you’ll see a quality publication use it when the reporter is quoting someone at length. But when quoting someone for a couple of short sentences, stick with SAID. Use ADDED or CONTINUED sparingly.