Quote . . . Close Quote

I make the Sunday bulletins for my ward. I typically put a quote from a scripture or a Church leader that’s related to the theme of the sacrament meeting on the front. I often look for quotes from Church leaders by looking through recent Conference talks on related topics. Recently while I was doing this, I was reading a talk given by a member of a general auxiliary presidency, and I was struck by how much of her talk was made up of quotes of other sources. This reminded me of David Evans’s excellent post at T&S a few months ago where he looked at which speakers in Conference quote which types of sources. One of his findings was that higher-authority speakers quoted less from high authority sources than did lower-authority speakers.

What I wondered is whether higher-authority speakers quote other sources in general less than lower-authority speakers, regardless of the level of authority of the sources being quoted. An advantage of this question is that it didn’t require me to figure out authority levels of sources. Instead, I could just count words in talks and count how many of the words were in quotes.

I got data from all the talks in the last ten Conferences (October 2010 – April 2015). For each talk, I noted the speaker’s calling, the number of words in the talk, and the number of words in the talk that were part of a quote. Here are results by calling group.

Position Talks Percent quotes
 First Presidency  88  14.8%
 Quorum of the Twelve  118  21.8%
 Quorums of Seventy  99  21.5%
 Other – men  19  20.8%
 Other – women  50  24.1%

It looks like the First Presidency might be using fewer quotes than other speakers. It’s also possible that the general auxiliary presidency member’s talk that got me to ask the question in the first place is part of a larger pattern, as the women who spoke in Conference used the most quotes of all.

What might be a better test would be to look at how speakers’ patterns of quote usage change as they change callings. For example, President Uchtdorf was a Seventy, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, and is now in the First Presidency. Has he used fewer quotes as he has risen in the hierarchy? I’ll have to save that analysis for another day.

In case you’re interested, here are speaker-level percentages for all speakers who gave at least three talks in the ten Conferences.

Speaker Talks Percent quotes
 Dieter F. Uchtdorf  23  10.2%
 Bonnie L. Oscarson  3  10.6%
 Elaine S. Dalton  5  12.8%
 Jean A. Stevens  3  12.9%
 Richard G. Scott  9  13.9%
 Quentin L. Cook  10  15.4%
 Thomas S. Monson  41  15.8%
 L. Whitney Clayton  3  16.4%
 Russell M. Nelson  10  17.3%
 Julie B. Beck  3  17.5%
 Henry B. Eyring  24  17.6%
 Tad R. Callister  3  18.0%
 Jeffrey R. Holland  10  18.1%
 Linda S. Reeves  3  19.4%
 M. Russell Ballard  10  20.0%
 L. Tom Perry  10  20.5%
 Dallin H. Oaks  10  22.2%
 David A. Bednar  10  22.6%
 Robert D. Hales  9  23.4%
 Mary N. Cook  4  24.2%
 Ulisses Soares  3  24.3%
 Boyd K. Packer  10  25.1%
 Silvia H. Allred  3  25.8%
 Barbara Thompson  3  26.0%
 Cheryl A. Esplin  3  28.1%
 Neil L. Andersen  10  28.3%
 Linda K. Burton  6  29.3%
 Carole M. Stephens  4  30.9%
 D. Todd Christofferson  10  32.8%
 Rosemary M. Wixom  4  34.5%
 Ann M. Dibb  4  38.6%


  1. This is fascinating. Just to make sure I understand, is your measure the average percentage of words in an individual’s body of talks that are quoting someone else? It’s hard to believe that 30% or more of someone’s talk content would be quoting the words of someone else. Do you including quoting scripture in your count? I find the higher percentage of quotations in women’s talks depressing, but not surprising.

    In addition to your idea of watching how a person’s quotations change as they rise in the hierarchy, I would also love to see how often men vs women as sources as cited (those also won’t be surprising, but it would be interesting to see who the outliers are that more often quote women). And I would like to see who is using non-Mormon sources more frequently. If you’re lower in the hierarchy, are you more likely to stick with traditional Mormon sources?

    (As a sidenote, in a teacher training meeting, we were told that we could only use LDS approved materials. So, the only way we could legitimately incorporate Mother Teresa into a SS lesson was to quote a GC speaker that quoted her.)

  2. Exactly right, Michelle. Where it’s 30%, 30% of the words in a talk are in quotes, either from other people or from scriptures (or poems or hymns or whatnot). In a few cases, I think people even quoted themselves. 🙂

    “And I would like to see who is using non-Mormon sources more frequently. If you’re lower in the hierarchy, are you more likely to stick with traditional Mormon sources?”

    David Evans’s post answers this question. I think the short answer is yes, lower-authority people quote higher-authority sources.


  3. This is fascinating. I wonder if this extends to rank-and-file members giving talks in Sacrament meeting or Stake Conference. Looking back, the only source I ever quoted in my talks was the scriptures. I wonder if that’s part of the reason I was never given anything other than low-level callings.

  4. I wonder if people who speak more might change the way they talk? Most of those women, for example, give relatively few talks in GC over their lifetime. An average male General Authority might, however, spend decades, even half his life in the pool from which they pick speakers (70s, general bishopric, YM presidency, quorum of 12) and may “evolve” from someone who quotes heavily (a trick ALL middle schoolers who don’t have enough of their own to say know) to someone who eventually has more of their own ideas to share?

    While women are heavily represented at the bottom of the list, they are also up top.

  5. Anyone old enough to remember him, and it depresses me to say that you now have to be quite old to remember him, will know that Marion G. Romney was the king of quotes. He quoted mostly scripture but I remember being a teenager listening to him and thinking that his talks were just one long string of quotations.

  6. Plus Ziff, when I saw the title of this I thought it was going to be about the obsession that has seized our GAs with saying “Quote…Closed Quote” multiple times in each GC address. How about some statistics on the evolution of this auditory tic? I think that President Monson did this for years with little effect until he became the prophet and it suddenly became necessary to copy him, but that may be just my faulty, age impaired, “I remember Marion G. Romney” memory.

  7. That would be an interesting question to look at, KLC! I didn’t realize it was a (relatively) recent thing, but then, I don’t always pay the closest attention while listening to Conference. 🙂 I’ll put it on my list of blogging ideas!

  8. Interesting work! You guys are classic academics, hehe. And I mean that in a back-handed sort of wonderful way. I’m an academic too, so I can say that without being a bigot. That’s the way it works, right? 😛

    Anyway, I think you’re right that women speaking in conference feel like they’re only entitled to make a statement if it’s backed up by something a male authority figure has said. Which is sad. But I’m not sure the difference between % of women’s talks as quotes and % of Quorum of the 12’s talks as quotes is statistically significant. Just saying.

    Personally, I prefer talks with fewer quotes. I want to know what the person has to say, not what some other person said.

    Great blog! I’m glad I discovered this!

  9. Thanks, immanence! I’m kind of a fake academic, so I’ll take that as a compliment!

    I think you’re right about the (non)-significance of the differences. I intentionally didn’t do any significance tests with these data because I was concerned that the differences between groups were actually differences between people (e.g., President Uchtdorf uses few quotes, so the First Presidency uses few quotes). If I get on the stick and get more data, maybe I’ll try to actually do some significance tests.

    And I 100% agree with you about quotes. Generally, I’d much rather hear a speaker say something new than quote something I’ve (likely) already heard.

  10. Oh, and many of my co-bloggers are busy with other endeavors right now, but when they get back and I quit hogging the blog, we’ll hopefully have some more interesting discussion that you’ll enjoy even more!


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