Quoting people in our articles can help us write better articles. They bring their expertise and unique opinions to the table that can improve the content and make it go deeper. But how do we refer to them, and how about on the second reference? I discuss that topic in this article, including:
The ways we can refer to people in articles
We want to make it easy for our readers to understand who is talking. That typically includes introducing the person correctly:
- Who are they?
- Why are they quoted here?
- What’s the relevance?
So we have the first reference and then a second reference and subsequent ones.
In general, the first reference should include:
- Person’s first and last name
- Who they are – that could be their professional title
- Any relevant affiliation – like their company’s name
So, if I were to be quoted in an article, the first reference of me might look like this:
Christoph Trappe, <title>, said…
Christoph Trappe, author of “Going Live”, said…
Growing up as a print journalist, the newspaper’s style was to use people’s last names as a second reference. So that would look like this:
Another option, which is more common on corporate blogs, is to use the person’s first name:
Christoph explained that…
A third option is to make it more formal, add a title, and use the last name.
Mr. Trappe said that…
Another option is to shorten people’s names to whatever you feel like.
I’m just kidding, of course, on this one. Don’t shorten anyone’s name to your preference but ask them what their preferred name is.
A final option that newspapers often use in crime stories is the full name:
(First name)(Middle name or initial)(Last name) …..
This might help with identification purposes in crime stories but isn’t necessary for business storytelling – unless the person quoted prefers that.
What if there are a lot of people quoted?
Sometimes you might quote several experts. Some might even have the same first name. In those cases, you could use their first and last name even on the second reference.
In addition, consider keeping each expert’s quotes confined to specific sections of the article. So that could look like this:
In other words, the article doesn’t jump back and forth between experts. Instead, one expert says what they are saying; then we move to the next one, and so on. Of course, that doesn’t always work that easily in practice, but it’s a good strategy when it makes sense for the flow of the story. And it’s easier for readers to follow who is talking. It can be hard to remember experts quoted early in a long article and then again at the end. Though there’s also a benefit to using the callback strategy in your stories.
Is there a right or wrong way on the second reference?
How to identify people in articles isn’t a grammar question but a style question. It’s entirely up to your content style to determine how to handle second references. You can undoubtedly use AP Style for guidance, outline your style in your style document, or a software tool like Grammarly.
There’s no right or wrong way on second references, but it’s up to how you want your company’s content to look.
For example, adding a title is more formal, but calling people by their first name is probably more common in business in North America. So there’s a cultural question: What makes the most sense to our brand voice and the culture we operate in? In Germany, on the other hand, language can be more formal, and the title might be necessary – though it seems the German business language has gotten less formal in recent years. The Wall Street Journal dropped courtesy titles just in 2023.
Whatever you decide, make sure the content team understands the style and uses it to make the content as consumable as possible.