I recently read this interesting blog post about why pull quotes are used on the web. The article talks a bit about why pull quotes existed in the first place1. and the author feels that web developers blindly followed what they were doing in print and implemented them on the web.
Some may find this statement a bit overreaching however I actually think it is right on the target. If you think about it most of web development from the early days even up to now has been trying to emulate what you can do in paper (be that newspaper, books, or magazines). The “holy grail” problem for web development was how do I make my website look like a magazine.
I understand a need for developers to make their sites look normal or ordinary. Heck this blog post is ordinary in that it is a centered stream of paragraphs just like newspapers and books before it. Part of the reason behind this is because readers happen to read in an “F” shaped pattern where they read from left to right (if their language is laid out like that) for the first line or two (generally the headline), then skip down the page, read a bit more and then skim down the rest of the page. This has been analyzed by many different groups by tracking eyes while reading webpages and other media.
I am not here to say that we should completely drop pull quotes from our writing or from our web layout standards, nor am I saying that we should avoid these deep layout patterns (they make reading really easy for a lot of people). What I do want to say is that pull quotes should be more than just direct copies of a sentence that already exists in the body copy of the article. If you go through and read most of my blog posts, you will undoubtably see a ton of block quotes meant to stand out to the reader. I am proud to say that I have tried to make each and every one of those contain different content that what is found in the body of the post. This is because I want users to quickly read a bit about the article by reading the block quotes, and then if they want to read the article the block quotes offer extra value when reading.