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date: 27 May 2017

Using Questions in Health and Risk Message Design

Summary and Keywords

Quotations, something that a person says or writes that is then used by someone else in another setting, have long been a staple of news stories. Reporters use quotations—both direct and paraphrased—to document facts, opinions, and emotions from human and institutional sources. From a journalistic standpoint, quotations are beneficial because they add credibility to a news report and allow readers/viewers to consider the source of information when evaluating its usefulness. Quotations are also valued because they are seen as adding a “human” element to a news report by allowing sources to present information in their own words—thus providing an unfiltered first-person perspective that audiences may find more compelling and believable than a detached third-person summary. Research into the effects of news report quotations has documented what journalists long assumed: Quotations, especially direct quotes using the exact words of a speaker, draw the attention of news consumers and are often attended to in news stories more than statistical information. Studies show that the first-person perspective is considered both more vivid and more credible, a phenomenon that newspaper and website designers often capitalize on through the use of graphic elements such as the extracted quote. Quotations in news stories have also been found to serve as a powerful persuasive tool with the ability to influence perception of an issue even in the face of contradictory statistical information. This is especially true when the topic under consideration involves potential risk. Direct quotations from individuals who perceive high levels of risk in a situation can sway audience perceptions, regardless of whether the quoted risk assessments are supported by reality. The power of quotations remains strong in other forms of communication involving risk, such as public service, health-related, or promotional messages. The vivid, first-person nature of quotes draws the attention of audiences and makes the quoted information more likely to be remembered and to influence future judgments regarding the issue in question. This presents the message creator, whether it be a journalist or other type of communicator, with a powerful tool that should be constructed and deployed purposefully in an effort to leave audiences with an accurate perception of the topic under consideration.

Keywords: quotation, news, exemplification, cognition, risk, perception, health and risk message design and processing

Introduction

Quotations, something that a person says or writes that is then used by someone else in another setting, have long been a staple of news stories and other forms of mediated communication. Reporters use quotations—both direct and paraphrased—to document facts, opinions, and emotions from human and institutional sources. From a journalistic standpoint, quotations are beneficial because they are assumed to add credibility to a news report and allow readers/viewers to consider the source of information when evaluating its usefulness. Quotations are also valued because they are seen as adding a “human” element to a news report by allowing sources to present information in their own words—thus providing an unfiltered first-person perspective that audiences may find more compelling and believable than a detached third-person summary. Quotations serve similar functions for other communication formats such as a press release or testimonial-focused advertisement.

Research into the effects of news report quotations, which are usually incorporated into the reports in the form of exemplars or case examples, has documented what journalists long assumed: Quotations, especially direct quotes using the exact words of a speaker, draw the attention of news consumers and are attended to in news stories more than is statistical information. Studies show that the first-person perspective is considered both more vivid and more credible, a phenomenon that newspaper and website designers often capitalize on through the use of graphic elements such as the extracted quote. Quotations in news stories have also been found to serve as a powerful persuasive tool with the ability to influence perception of an issue even in the face of contradictory statistical information. This is especially true when the topic under consideration involves a potential health and safety risk. Direct quotations from individuals who perceive high levels of risk in a situation can sway audience perceptions, regardless of whether the quoted risk assessments match actual risk probabilities.

The power of quotations is also strong in other forms of communication involving risk, such as public service, health-related, or promotional messages. The vivid, first-person nature of quotes draws the attention of audiences and makes the quoted information more likely to be remembered and to influence future judgments regarding the issue in question. This presents the message creator, whether it be a journalist or other type of communicator, with a powerful tool—a super exemplar, if you will—that should be constructed and deployed purposefully in an effort to leave audiences with an accurate perception of the topic under consideration.

This article will first explain the types of quotations used by media professionals and examine the professional standards for their usage. Next, the research into the effects of quotation use on perceptions of message credibility and issue scope and severity will be examined. Finally, this article will explore the theoretical frameworks used to explain the power of quotes to serve as a “super exemplar” of sorts.

Types of Quotations and Their Use in Mediated Communication

In its most general sense, a quotation—or quote—refers to something someone said. But for media and communication professionals who use them in news reports, press releases, advertisements, public service announcements, blogs, social media, and other forms of communication, there is a more nuanced terminology.

A “direct” quote usually refers to the exact words of a speaker (with little or no editing) and is put between quotation marks. There are two types of direct quotes: full and partial. A full direct quote is at least one full sentence and maybe more of a speaker’s words. A partial direct quote uses just a few words that a person said; these don’t make a full sentence, but are still put within quotation marks. Direct quotes are often taken from a person’s spoken words, but they can also come from written communication such as a text of a speech or email.

In some forms of communication, such as a news report or magazine story, especially strong direct quotes are used in a graphic design feature referred to as an “extracted quote” or “pull quote.” This is a brief, attention-catching quotation, typically in a distinctive typeface, taken from the main text of an article and used in larger type than story text. It is designed to entice audiences into reading the material, especially for longer articles, and to highlight a particularly interesting or informative quotation (Lennartz, 2008; Stovall, 1997). Extracted quotes have been found to make news stories more enjoyable and memorable (Wanta & Gao, 1994).

Another common type of quotation is the paraphrased quote, which does not appear inside quotation marks. It is assumed to capture the essence of what the quoted person said although there is no assumption that it is the exact words of the speaker. Professional communicators often choose to paraphrase when a speaker’s exact statement was overly long or convoluted, if it contained grammar errors or profanity, or if the communicator could simply present the information in a more easily understood manner.

Regardless of whether they are presented as direct or paraphrased, it is assumed that quotations will be accompanied by some sort of attribution that indicates who said or wrote the material. The most common method of attribution is some form of the verb “to say” (Henshall & Ingram, 2012), although more value-laden words such as “insisted,” “asserted,” or demanded” can be used.

Lastly, there is the “scare” quote, which isn’t really a quotation at all. These are not the words of a speaker; instead they are words or short phrases that are placed between quotation marks to add emphasis to the word or to imply sarcasm, irony, or something other than the words’ obvious literal meaning. For example, consider this sentence: As you can see, this “premium” product is actually a piece of garbage. The quotation marks around the word “premium” are there to indicate the writer’s opinion that the product is definite not premium.

Quotation Use and Standards in News Reports

Journalists who produce news reports—whether those reports are delivered through print, broadcast, or online platforms—understand that quotations serve as an important component of their work. Journalism textbook authors Mitchell and West (1996) assert that “In the most general sense, quotations are the basis of all news stories” (p. 51). In text-based news reports, quotations are presented in writing, whereas in television and radio news, the actual words of a speaker are usually captured and presented in an audio clip, often called a sound bite if it is just a few sentences. Television journalists sometimes use quotes presented through text on the screen.

If done correctly, quotations provide many benefits: They improve accuracy and reduce the risk of misrepresentation; they allow audiences to see not only a source’s ideas, but also how those ideas were presented; they liven up a news story by including first-person accounts that are often colorful; and most important, they add credibility to a news report by showing that the reporter consulted multiple sources for a news story (Rogers, 2015). Journalism students and reporters themselves are universally encouraged to use quotations in their news reports: “Remember too that, as a journalist, you are simply the channel through which people with something to say speak to people who want to know what they said. The best way of keeping the channel clear is to let people tell things in their own way. One of the golden rules of journalism is: Let people speak for themselves. Use quotes” (Henshall & Ingram, 2012).

Scholars who focus on the sociology of news (Pan & Kosicki, 1993; Tuchman, 1972) provide a different perspective on the role of quotes in news stories, suggesting that quotation use developed as a professional practice to enhance the perception of news as objective reports of events and issues, while also providing the journalist with a vehicle that would allow him or her to selectively frame those events and issues. By selecting which sources to seek quotes from and, subsequently, which quotes from those sources to include in a news report, the journalists do more than just mirror reality. They exert substantial influence over how “reality” is presented to the public (Entman, 1993; Goffman, 1974).

Journalism instructional materials are more inclined to focus on the credibility-enhancing aspect of quotations, in addition to their expected ability to make a news report more lively and memorable. One popular journalism textbook noted, “Quotations can be the soul of a news story or feature. They can bring a dull story to life, and they can make a good story even better” (Itule & Anderson, 1997, p. 91). It is common for textbooks (Rich, 2013) and other instructional outlets such as blogs (Luke, 2015) and videos to encourage journalists to use the most compelling quotes with vivid language, lots of emotion, and memorable points of view (Rich, 2013). Journalism instruction also guides beginning reporters in deciding whether to use a direct quote or to paraphrase the words of a speaker. Direct quotations are recommended for especially vivid statements, for detailed and descriptive statements, for inner feelings, to capture personality, and for dialogue (Rich, 2013; Yopp & McAdams, 2013). On the other hand, if a person’s exact statement is rambling or incomprehensible, reporters are advised to paraphrase—to capture the meaning of the source’s original statement but in more clear and concise phrasing.

There is some disagreement among experts about whether it is permissible to alter a direct quote and still retain the quotation marks. Some journalism educators insist that the “literal meaning of quotation marks in attributing a statement to a speaker is that the words within the marks are verbatim, down to the last ‘a,’ ‘an,’ and ‘the’” (Weaver, Hopkins, Billings, & Cole, 1974, p. 400), but others acknowledge that many editors allow for minimal editing, for example, to account for grammar errors (Itule & Anderson, 1997). The Associated Press Stylebook (2013), a style guide widely used by U.S. print and online news outlets, is very clear about its policy: “Never alter quotations even to correct grammatical errors or word usage. Casual minor tongue slips may be removed by using ellipses, but even that should be done with extreme caution” (p. 229). Audiences, for the most part, seem to accept AP’s understanding of the rules for direct quotes; a 1976 survey (Culbertson & Somerick, 1976) showed that 80% of respondents knew that quotation marks are used to signal the use of the exact words of a speaker. It’s not surprising then, that journalism textbook authors Yopp and McAdams (2013) suggest that cleaning up grammar in direct quotes is not good practice, especially when audiences may have heard the original comments and realize that the news accounts they read don’t match what they hear. Therefore, although some individual news outlets may allow writers to alter quotes to make them more grammatically correct or family friendly, professional standards for the news industry suggest that when in doubt about whether a reporter has the exact words, it’s best to paraphrase.

In spite of journalism’s focus on the accuracy of quotes, research shows that the use of direct quotes in news stories is often far from perfect. Berry (1967) tested the accuracy of local news stories from three San Francisco Bay area daily newspapers by sending them to sources mentioned in the stories. Results showed sources claimed to have been misquoted in 20% of the stories examined. Likewise, Lehrer (1989) compared quotations in 24 news reports with tape recordings of the events (meetings and speeches) or interviews that the reports were about. Discrepancies between actual quotes and those used in the news report were classified either as omissions, changes, or additions. She found discrepancies in more than three-fourths of the stories but noted that most did not affect the meaning of the quote, and those that did were subtle or rhetorical in nature. Even more substantial changes were usually compatible with the intentions of the speaker. She suggested that most of the discrepancies could be explained by issues with reporter short-term memory.

Journalism instruction typically focuses a significant amount of attention on the issue of quotes and attribution: how to interview sources and get them to provide useful quotes, how to ensure that quotes in news reports are accurate, how to determine if material should be quoted directly or paraphrased, where in a news report to place a quote, and how to punctuate it (Mitchell & West, 1996; Yopp & McAdams, 2013). Interestingly, however, textbook chapters and online references do not generally address how the content of a quotation should relate to the overall content of the news report in which it is found, specifically to any base-rate data that may also be found in the report (Gibson & Zillmann, 1994). Rogers (2015) actually recommends that writers not include numbers or statistics in a quote, nothing that although they may be important for the story, they are too boring for a quotation. The implicit takeaway from this pattern of instruction is that quotes in news reports are prized for their vividness, not how well they represent the big picture of the issue or event in question. This is especially true for advice regarding quotes that will be highlighted in a news report, such as extracted quotes. As with in-text quotes, the emphasis in an extracted quote is on compelling, rather than representative, material (Gibson, Hester, & Stewart, 2001).

In science and health reporting, areas in which it is especially important that journalists present accurate news stories that help audiences understand and assess personal risk, it appears that the pressure to get vivid quotes remains (Zillmann, 2006). In an examination of the ethics of using personal anecdotes in news reports, Craig (2003) cites a personal interview he conducted with New York Times science reporter Gina Kolata, who admitted, “I think anecdotes are actually almost too powerful. I always call it the ‘tyranny of the anecdote.’ You have to be really careful with anecdotes because people will remember the anecdote and will mean more to them than anything else you say” (p. 802). A study of science writers who cover the subtopic of genetics and behavior (Conrad, 1999) showed that reporters follow textbook advice to use quotes to increase story credibility and vividness. One journalist reported, “Simply having someone quoted by name gives a weight, a gravity to the story and gives evidence that increases your credibility” (p. 292). The study found evidence that at least some reporters understand that the quotes they use may not be representative of the larger picture and that any given set of quotes may represent “the only people in the country who feel that way” (p. 292). Likewise, a study featuring interviews with journalists from British broadsheet newspapers who covered science beats found that “Journalists preferred to quote respected leaders in the field and trusted contacts who had previously supplied lively comments” (Entwistle, 1995, p. 921).

Quotation Use and Standards in Public Relations and Advertising

Although the use of quotations is associated more with news-related fields than those in strategic communication, it is not uncommon for quotes to appear in communication formats such as press releases or advertisements that focus on testimonials. Journalistic assumptions that quotations lend credibility to a message and make it more vivid and memorable appear to transfer to promotional messages (Uribe, Manzur, & Hidalgo, 2013). Writing for PR Newswire, Jasinski (2015) notes that quotations can be a powerful tool in a press release and recommends that writers use strong language to evoke a response: “Quoting your brand’s thought leaders in a press release can give the media and your customers a glimpse into your organization’s personality, evoke strong imagery and emotions, and inspire action.” Interviews by Sleurs, Jacobs, and Van Waes (2003) found that public relations professionals often structure press releases so that they “can easily be copied by journalists in their own news reporting” (p. 192), thus generating free and indirect publicity. As such, it is not a surprise that they select quotes that are lively and dramatic because this makes them more attractive to journalists (Jacobs, 1999).

Unlike in journalism, public relations professionals are often empowered to write quotes for others, such as a company executive, as long as the quote is approved by the person to whom it is attributed before being disseminated (Sleurs, Jacobs, & Van Waes, 2003). Research by Bell (1991) shows that in most cases, but not always, quotes constructed by public relations professionals and attributed to company officials are indeed approved by those officials.

In the fields of advertising and marketing, quotations are most often used in testimonial format. It’s common, especially in local advertisements or company websites, to see direct quotes from customers praising a product or service. Advertising educators Hafer and White (1977) note that “What a third party says about you is more impressive than what you say about yourself” in their recommendation that customer testimonials be used in advertisements (p. 88). It is acknowledged that advertising copywriters often craft the quotes that appear in advertisements with testimonials, but it is expected that those quotes are approved by the endorser and accurately represent his or her feelings about the product or service being advertised (Burton, 1974). Professional organizations such as the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA, 2009) and the American Advertising Federation (Institute for Advertising Ethics, 2015) have specific guidelines about using testimonials in promotional material, and they clearly indicate that quotes from endorsers should represent accurate and authentic opinions of the endorsers.

Regardless of the subfield of communication or presentation format, quotations appear to be an important message component. They are assumed to lend credibility to a message by showing that experts and others related to an issue or event have been consulted; and equally important, they allowed for the inclusion of vivid and compelling content in a message. The next section of this chapter will examine research that looks at the effects of quotations on message consumers.

Research Evidence of the Effects of Quotations

This section will highlight what research tells us about the effects of quotations in mediated communication messages on audience evaluations of message credibility, issue perception, and risk assessments.

The Effects of Quotations on Perceptions of Credibility

As noted previously, journalists and other media professionals are consistently encouraged to use quotes in news stories, press releases, and even advertisements to enhance the credibility of those messages by providing direct statements from experts and other individuals related to the topics addressed in the messages. Scholarly research in this area has focused primarily on the effects of quotation in news reports and has generally—but not always—supported the assertion that the inclusion of quotations leads to higher levels of perceived credibility (Sundar, 1998). In a study that examined the effects of varying types of attribution in news, Fedler and Counts (1981) found that the use of quotation and attribution is especially important to reader perceptions of credibility for news reports about controversial topics, but is less important for non-controversial topics. A few years later, in response to the growth in popularity of online news, Sundar (1998) conducted one of the more sophisticated examinations of the effects of quotation use on reader attitudes. To determine if quoted sources in online news are as psychologically meaningful as those in printed and broadcast news, Sundar (1998) compared assessments of online news stories that contained quotes versus assessments of online news stories that presented the information without quotes and source attribution. The study examined effects on reader assessments of the news reports’ credibility and quality, as well as respondents’ liking of the story. Results showed that respondents rated stories that contained quotes higher in quality and credibility than those without quotes. Surprisingly, the presence or absence of quotes did not affect respondents’ liking of the stories. Overall, Sundar suggested that his findings confirm that “journalists’ preoccupation with getting quotes for news stories is a psychologically valid concern” (p. 63).

More recent research involving both online content and traditional newspapers has likewise identified a connection between quotation use and audience perceptions of news credibility. In his widely cited book on persuasion research, O’Keefe (2002) notes that the use of quotations and testimonials is among several message features that are generally associated with perceptions of credibility. Similarly, Hong (2006) found that message features such as quotation use were more influential than structural features in perceptions of web site credibility.

Interestingly, research evidence does not support the assumption that direct quotes are more influential than paraphrased quotes in credibility assessments. An early scholarly investigation of how readers perceive direct quotes versus paraphrased ones (Weaver, Hopkins, Billings, & Cole, 1974) showed that the presence of quotation marks made little difference in how respondents evaluated the story or the source of the quotation, seemingly contradicting textbook advice that direct quotes make a story more credible and lively. In the Weaver et al. study, four news stories were manipulated to create two versions each: one with all statements attributed to the speaker through exact words contained in quotation marks, and another with all statements attributed to the speaker through paraphrase. Results showed no significant differences in how the readers of the two versions rated the stories in terms of accuracy, objectivity, believability, informativeness, interest, conciseness, readability or colorfulness. For the most part, respondents also rated the individuals quoted in the story similarly (on criteria of believable, informed, interesting, effective, colorful and precise), with the exception of ratings of drama and emotion. Individuals quoted directly were considered more dramatic and emotional than individuals whose statements were paraphrased. Likewise, Gibson and Zillmann (1993) found no evidence to suggest that ratings of story quality were affected by whether quotes were presented inside direct quotation marks or through paraphrase. In an experiment using news reports that contained one-sided personal testimony claiming that amusement parks were unsafe, the researchers had hypothesized that direct quotes would lead to higher levels of perceived credibility because, “Direct quotes are, after all, expected to truthfully represent a source’s account of an event, including that source’s beliefs, dispositions, and emotions concerning the event. Paraphrasing may be perceived as diminishing the level of veridicality, if only because it is recognized that the original account was recast and may have been tampered with—inadvertently or deliberately” (p. 795). But there were no significant differences in credibility assessments between respondents who read direct first-person quotes versus those that were paraphrased.

In a follow-up study, Gibson and Zillmann (1998) looked at the influence of direct quotation in news reports about a controversial multiple-sided issue, responsibility for the decline in family farms. The project manipulated whether opposing viewpoints were presented in either direct quotation or paraphrase format. Some versions featured a balanced presentation in which both sides of the issue were quoted in either direct or paraphrased quotation format, whereas other versions featured an unbalanced presentation in which one side was presented in direct quotation while the other was paraphrased, and some versions contained no quotation testimony at all. The researchers hypothesized that the versions presenting both sides of the issue in the same quotation style or no testimony at all would be judged to be more balanced and fair than those versions presenting one side of the story in direct quotation form and the other side in paraphrased quotation form. Findings showed that citation patterns did not influence respondent evaluations of the reports in assessments of balance or credibility, supporting the earlier studies that indicated news report readers apparently do not take citation patterns into account when assessing the credibility of news.

A similar pattern emerged from a more recent study that focused on quotations in commercial speech. Uribe, Manzur, and Hidalgo (2013) examined the effects of the use of quotations in advertising messages on three variables: emotional impact, credibility, and the behavioral intention to donate. They varied the advertisements in terms of how quotations were presented, either as first-person direct quotes or third-person paraphrased quotes. Results showed no effects of quotation presentation format whatsoever.

The results seem to clearly indicate that individuals do not judge the credibility of a message based on whether quotations within it are presented as the exact words of the speaker within quote marks or as paraphrases. But one study produced different results, albeit on a very narrow population, beginning journalism students. Gibson and Hester (2000) examined the perceptions of beginning versus advanced reporting students in terms of credibility, balance and fairness of news stories containing multiple sources where one side is presented in direct quotation and the other side is presented in paraphrased form. They hypothesized that students with fewer journalism classes and less college newspaper experience and thus less formal instruction in how to use quotations would judge the news reports to be more credible and less biased than students with more advanced journalism instruction. As expected advanced journalism students (who had taken an average of 2.7 news writing and/or editing courses) evaluated the story as significantly less balanced and fair than did beginning journalism students who had taken no news writing and/or editing courses.

The Effects of Quotation on Issue Perception and Assessment of Risk

Although there is little evidence to suggest that quotation format and content influence assessments of message credibility, there is substantial evidence that quotation patterns do affect respondent issue perception and assessment of personal risk. The bulk of the studies come from research focused on exemplification theory, which suggests that exemplars, which are vivid examples in news reports or other types of messages, exert more influence over individuals’ perception of an issue than do base-rate data, which are the numerical pieces of information provided in a message that quantify the scope of the issue. Exemplification theory and its supporting mechanisms will be explored fully in the next section. This section will focus on research evidence showing that one type of exemplar—the direct quotation—is especially capable of exerting strong influence over message recipients’ perceptions of issues and accompanying risk.

In one of the first examinations of the exemplification effects of quotation in news reports, Gibson and Zillmann (1993) designed an experiment using both print and radio news reports about the safety of amusement parks. The reports were manipulated only in terms of quotation use. One version of the reports included no personal testimony; it contained only factual information about the amusement park safety debate and served as a control condition. A second version of the print and radio news reports included the same factual information that was in the first version, in addition to paraphrased testimony from six people who had either witnessed or been directly involved in amusement park accidents and thus considered amusement parks to be unsafe. The final version contained the factual information found in the first two versions, as well as testimony from the six individuals asserting the lack of amusement park safety, but in this version the testimony was presented through direct quotation. The researchers predicted that the power of direct quotes would lead to lower ratings of amusement park safety than those provided by respondents in the paraphrased or no-quotation versions. They also predicted a stronger direct quotation effect for the radio versions of the news reports because direct quotations in radio are presented through the actual voice of the speaker, which the researchers predicted would call more attention to the direct nature of the testimony than would the quotation marks used in the print version. Results were only partially as predicted. Respondents who read the print news reports containing personal testimony from accident victims and witnesses were much more likely to consider amusement parks unsafe than were respondents in the paraphrased or no quotation (control) conditions. There was no significant difference in safety assessments between respondents exposed to the paraphrased-quote print condition and the no-quote print condition, showing that the power lies in directly quoted and attributed information. As the researchers concluded, “The surprisingly strong differentiation observed between the direct and indirect quote print conditions shows that, just as journalism textbook authors insist, readers do pay attention to what is found between quotation marks” (Gibson & Zillmann, 1993, p. 799). Counter to prediction, no effects of quotation format (direct quotation, paraphrased quotation, or no quotation) were observed for the radio version of the news reports. Based on the study’s overall findings, Gibson and Zillmann suggested that, especially for print news outlets, reporters should attempt to balance quotes used in their stories, presenting direct quotes from all sides involved in an issue. To directly quote some while paraphrasing others may unintentionally lead to one side being more persuasive than another.

As noted above in the discussion of the effects of quotation format on perceived news report credibility, Gibson and Zillmann conducted a follow-up experiment (1998) that expanded upon the 1993 study by varying the quotation style of news reports that included testimony from sources expressing multiple viewpoints about a controversial issue. A news report on the plight of struggling Midwestern family farms was manipulated to produce five versions. In all versions, the same set of opposing viewpoints was presented: First were descriptions of a group of poor farmers who blamed their situation on government subsidies and irresponsible actions of bankers, followed by descriptions of a group of well-to-do farmers who argue that they succeeded primarily because of help from government subsidies and bankers. In the various conditions, the arguments were manipulated only in terms of quotation method. Specifically, the farmers’ testimony was featured either in direct quotations or through paraphrase. It was predicted that arguments presented through direct quotations would be more persuasive than those presented thorough paraphrase or those presented without quotation. Specifically, the researchers hypothesized that a selective-citation condition in which poor farmers’ opinions were presented in direct quotation whereas the rich farmers’ opinions were paraphrased would produce the highest assessments that farmers are struggling and that government subsidies and bankers are to blame. It was also predicted that the two balanced-citation conditions in which both sides were either quoted directly or paraphrased, along with the control condition with no quotation, would produce less extreme estimates of the number of farmers who are struggling and less fault placed on bankers or government subsidies. Lastly, it was predicted that the selective-citation condition that directly quoted rich farmers and paraphrased poor farmers would produce the lowest estimates of the number of farmers who are struggling and the lowest levels of blame for bankers and government subsidies. The findings were as expected, supporting the “proposal that direct quotation is a powerful journalistic tool that can be used to influence news consumers’ perceptions of issues” (p. 173). Respondents who read news reports in which poor farmers were directly quoted and rich farmers were paraphrased produced the highest estimates of the percentage of family farmers who struggle financially and the lowest estimates of the number of farmers who become wealthy. The opposite was true for respondents who read reports that quoted rich farmers directly and poor farmers in paraphrase. Also as predicted, estimates from respondents in the balanced-citation and no-citation conditions fell somewhere in between. The findings suggest that direct quotation increases the persuasive power of exemplars, swaying perception of the issue in the direction of the personal testimony. The selective use of direct quotation also influenced attribution of blame for the plight or good fortune of the farmers. In versions where poor farmers were directly quoted as blaming bankers and government subsidizers for their problems, respondents were also more likely to blame those groups for the failure of farmers than were respondents who read the paraphrased quotes from poor farmers. Gibson and Zillmann (1998) concluded that direct quotes can be considered “enhanced exemplars capable of exerting greater influence on readers’ perceptions of issues” (p. 174).

Expanding upon these findings, Gibson, Hester, and Stewart (2001) focused on a specific quotation format—the extracted quote—to determine whether its prominence as a graphic design element would afford it even stronger influence over reader issue perception. Their study manipulated the use of extracted quotes in a news magazine report about the benefits and risks of taking aspirin as a preventative measure against angina. The four versions contained either (1) no extracted quote, (2) an extracted quote from a source who supported the use of aspirin to prevent angina, (3) an extracted quote from a source who was against the use of aspirin to prevent angina, or (4) extracted quotes from one source in favor and one source against. In all versions, the news article itself was identical and was a balanced account of the issue with support for both sides. As predicted, results of the experiment showed that partiality in extracted quotations fostered higher levels of support for the position advocated in the extracted quote. For examples, readers in the anti-aspirin extracted quote condition were significantly more likely to reject taking aspirin for angina than were readers in the pro-aspirin quote or balanced-quote conditions. The study also found no evidence to suggest that respondents in either of the one-sided extracted quote conditions detected the bias. Based on their findings, the researchers cautioned journalistic editors to be deliberate in their selection of material for type-based graphic elements such as extracted quotes. “Given that it appears to be comparatively easy to influence individuals’ perceptions of social reality through the use of extracted quotation in news reports, it is imperative that journalists, whose role it is to present the most accurate view of the word and its phenomena as possible, take into consideration the manner in which they use this type of informational graphic” (Gibson, Hester, & Stewart, 2001, p. 77).

A study by Gan, Hill, Pschernig, and Zillmann (1996) expanded exemplification research to broadcast news, using emotional interviews with individuals responding to a mass shooting. The study utilized actual broadcast news reports about the 1994 Hebron massacre in which American-Israeli Baruch Goldstein shot and killed dozens of Palestinians worshippers in a West Bank mosque. The news reports included footage of Israeli Jews discussing their response to the carnage—the broadcast version of a “direct quotation.” The experimental conditions featured exemplars in interview format that either (1) condoned the massacre, (2) condemned it, or (3) both condoned and condemned it. A control condition did not include any interviews. Respondents who saw interviews with Jews who condoned and even glorified the massacre overestimated the size of the pro-aggression Israeli subpopulation and underestimated the subpopulation committed to peace. Likewise, respondents who saw the emotional images of individuals supporting the violence were more likely to assign fault to Israelis for the ongoing conflict and showed less of a willingness to favor peace, showing the power of televised exemplars containing direct personal testimony.

The Ethics of Using Quotations

In addition to examining the effects of quotations on evaluations of credibility and issue perception, scholars have also analyzed the ethical implications of using this type of message feature. The researchers whose studies were detailed above (Gibson, Hester, & Stewart, 2001; Gibson & Zillmann, 1993, 1998) have highlighted the responsibility that journalists have in using quotations responsibly and purposefully in order to produce news reports that are balanced and leave audiences with an accurate perception of the issue or event under consideration. In a much more in-depth analysis, Craig (2003) considered the strengths and weaknesses of quotations as a journalistic device through an ethical analysis of the use of anecdotes in news reports. Drawing on three normative frameworks (Christians, Ferre, & Fackler, 1993; Craig, 1999; Gilligan, 1982) that suggest news coverage should address topics at both the individual and societal levels—and not focus only on the plight of individuals—he analyzed the ethics of news coverage of three science- and medicine-related topics: human embryo research, physician-assisted suicide, and the practices of health maintenance organizations. Craig grounded his analysis in exemplification theory, noting that exemplars are conceptually similar to anecdotes in that they focus on the experience of an individual and often contain personal testimony: “Exemplification by atypical and uncharacteristic events is deemed inappropriate because it fails to provide reliable information about the group. Given the inherent difficulties of accurate representation through anecdotes, the prevalence of anecdotes in journalism stands out as an ethical issue” (p. 803).

Results of the analysis showed that anecdotes in news coverage of the controversial topics often represented extreme cases—often depicting severe suffering—and were selected to elicit high levels of sympathy and empathy from audience members. Craig concluded that such portrayals of suffering may inadvertently obscure consideration of issues at the larger professional and societal levels. He did not suggest that reporters avoid using anecdotes or quotes in news reports, but suggested that they be chosen to provide the “fullest possible insight not merely about an individual but also about individuals in relationship with one another” and the “fullest possible insight about the broader organizational, professional, and social contexts of a topic” (p. 813).

Theoretical Basis for the Influence of Quotations on Issue Perception

Exemplification theory, as explained by Zillmann (1999) in a seminal piece in Media Psychology, suggests that examples or case studies (referred to as exemplars) used in mediated communication—including news reports, advertising, and educational messages—exert strong influence over message recipients who are making judgments about the issue addressed in the message. Even when presented with precise base-rate data detailing the scope of the issue, message recipients tend to base their decision making on information found in the exemplars, especially when making assessments of risks to safety and health (Bar-Hillel & Fischoff, 1981; Gibson & Zillmann, 1994; Paivio, 1971; Tversky & Kahneman, 1982; Zillmann, 2006). Exemplar distribution is of particular importance, with message recipients tending to match their perception of an issue to the distribution of cases (Brosius & Bathelt, 1994; Zillmann & Brosius, 2000).

Research from cognitive psychology can be called upon to help explain the exemplification effect, especially as it relates to quotations and issue perception. It is well documented that humans are generally not inclined (or even able) to process all of the information they are exposed to in a deliberate and rational manner (Grabe, Lang, & Zhao, 2003; Kahneman, 2001; Lang, 2000). Individuals employ heuristics to more efficiently process information and subsequently retrieve and apply it in relevant situations. Specifically, the availability heuristic (Kahneman, 2001; Kahneman, Slovic, & Tversky, 1982; Tversky & Kahneman, 1973) provides explanation for the ability of exemplars containing quoted material, especially information presented in direct quotation, to influence audience perceptions. This heuristic stipulates that assessments of social phenomena and any accompanying risks or opportunities are influenced by the ease with which those exemplars are accessed in memory and retrieved from it. Attributes that make an exemplar more easily accessible (Nisbett & Ross, 1980) and increase its affective reactivity (Loewenstein, Weber, Hsee, & Welch, 2001; Slovic, Finucane, Peters, & MacGregor, 2002; Zillmann, 2006)—such as higher levels of vividness, emotionality, or even atypicality—increase the likelihood that the exemplar will receive disproportional attention and exert disproportional influence on subsequent cognitions. As noted in the research examined earlier in this chapter, these attributes are exactly those likely to be found in direct quotations.

Brosius (1999) also drew from the cultivation theory of Gerbner, Gross, Signorielli, and Morgan (1980) to find rationale for the persuasive power of vivid exemplars. Cultivation theory suggests that individuals who watch a significant amount of crime-related drama on television overestimate the probability of crime and violence in reality. Brosius compared the individual crimes found in television programming to the individual exemplars in news reports, which often take the form of vivid and emotional quotations. Brosius argues that “Gerbner’s results can be interpreted as effects of exemplars: recipients overestimate crime rates and are more afraid of falling victim to crime because they have watched more exemplars of crime and because they have seen more people becoming crime victims” (p. 223).

Given these theoretical justifications and the presence of substantial supporting research (Aust & Zillmann, 1996; Brosius, 1999; Gibson & Zillmann, 1993, 1994, 1998; Zillmann, 2006; Zillmann & Brosius, 2000; Zillmann, Gibson, & Sargent, 1999), it is not unreasonable to label direct quotations in news reports and other types of mediated content as “super exemplars” that serve as highly persuasive messages features, even in the presence of countering base-rate data. Additionally, it has been shown that such exemplars, especially those high in emotionality and vividness, are especially powerful in situations in which messages are related to assessment of health risks (Aust & Zillmann, 1996; Zillmann, 2006).

It is unreasonable to think that professional communicators will cease to use vivid or emotional direct quotation in their messages. It is not unreasonable, however, to expect communicators to more carefully craft their messages and to responsibly balance and distribute quotations so that one aspect of a message is not inadvertently given more sway than another aspect. These “super exemplars” should be deployed in ways that enhance message attention and information acquisition and allow for accurate and realistic perceptions of issues, especially those involving risks related to health and safety.

Further Reading

Bandura, A. (1994). Social cognitive theory of mass communication. In J. Bryant & D. Zillmann (Eds.), Media effects: Advances in theory and research (pp. 61–90). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Find this resource:

Bomlitz, L. J., & Brezis, M. (2008). Misrepresentation of health risks by mass media. Journal of Public Health, 30(2), 202–204.Find this resource:

Brosius, H.-B., & Bathelt, A. (1994). The utility of exemplars in persuasive communications. Communication Research, 21(1), 48–78.Find this resource:

Gibson, R., Hester, J. B., & Stewart, S. (2001). Pull quotes shape reader perceptions of news stories. Newspaper Research Journal, 22(2), 66–78.Find this resource:

Gibson, R., & Zillmann, D. (1993). The impact of quotation in news reports on issue perception. Journalism Quarterly, 70(3), 793–800.Find this resource:

Gibson, R., & Zillmann, D. (1994). Exaggerated versus representative exemplification in news reports: Perception of issues and personal consequences. Communication Research, 21(5), 603–624.Find this resource:

Gibson, R., & Zillmann, D. (1998). Effects of citation in exemplifying testimony on issue perception. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, 75, 167–176.Find this resource:

Lang, A. (2000). The information processing of mediated messages: A framework for communication research. Journal of Communication, 50(1), 46–70.Find this resource:

Zillmann, D., & Brosius, H.-B. (2000). Exemplification in communication: The influence of case reports on the perception of issues. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Find this resource:

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