Students know that they are supposed to use quotations from other sources. But it can be difficult to crow-bar in a quote. Sometimes they don’t seem to fit grammatically, or including the quote just feels clunky. You have to have faith that quotes are good, and they will do wonders for your credibility. So here are the basics on doing it right.
Frame quotes with your own words
Framing quotes with your own words and placing them in context is a crucial skill that will help identify your writing as ‘academic quality.’
Here’s a typical student attempt at including a quotation:
- The amount of fouls a team commits in college basketball can be an indicator of how well they will do in the National Championships. “The foul differential — it is as good a term for it as any — is a surprisingly important indicator of a team’s chances of winning a national championship” (Branch).
There are two issues:
- The quote repeats the point made in the first sentence.
- More importantly, the quote is just jammed in, without any framing. This is just bad form – like showing up to a formal wedding and eating the wedding cake before anyone has even had dinner.
Here’s a fix, that makes the writing more concise and argumentative:
- We can predict that the Running Rebels of UNLV will do well this year because, according to the New York Times sportswriter John Branch “The foul differential…is a surprisingly important indicator of a team’s chances of winning a national championship.”
Now the student’s writing is adding new information – clearly the essay is about the UNLV basketball team’s disciplined play throughout the season – and the quote is put into context. The entire sentence, including the quote, can be read out loud without any hitches, stops, or starts. It reads smoothly.
Install the free Q for Success Chrome and Word app and use an easy wizard to construct properly framed quotes.
Let’s break down the skills necessary to integrate quotes successfully:
- Excerpt quotes accurately and ethicallyImagine that the president of a university said the following: “While our institution’s tuition continues to rise, we are committed to increasing financial aid to those who qualify. The rapid pace of construction on campus will slow, since our priorities now lie elsewhere.”It would obviously be unethical to quote the president as saying, “Our tuition continues to rise, but our priorities lie elsewhere.”This is why writers include a bibliography: so the reader can check sources if they are curious to see the context or entire quote.
Generally, it is more effective to use shorter excerpts from another’s words, rather than long stretches of their words that can take the focus away from your own work.
- Attribute each quote to its sourceCan your reader understand the origin of the quote? In the above example (the UNLV one), we used the “according to the New York Times” attribution. There are many words you can use to vary the way quotes are attributed: writes, states, complains, questions, remarks, observes etc.
- Analyze and explain the quoteThis is a crucial step. Hopefully your quote will need some explanation. How does it tie back to your thesis? Why are you including it? What does the quote mean? In the above basketball example, the overall argument might be that UNLV will do well in the NCAA finals – so we would expect a close analysis of the team’s penalties during the regular season to follow the evidence from the New York Times article.
- Make sure the quote fits grammatically and logicallyThis is huge. Take the following example:
- Will Smith, the Oscar-winning actor, once sang about parents “they just don’t understand.”
You cannot read this sentence straight through – it doesn’t make sense. Plus, it isn’t an accurate quote. The lyric is “Parents just don’t understand.” Here’s how to fix it:
- Will Smith, the Oscar-winning actor, once sang that parents “just don’t understand.”
Now the sentence can be read without any awkwardness, and the quotation is an accurate excerpt.
- Punctuate the quote properlyIf the original quote has punctuation in the section you are using, include it in your quote. So if a sentence you are quoting ends with an exclamation mark (!), include it in the quote – inside the quotation marks.If the quote you’re using has a quote inside of it, enclose the quote-within-a-quote in single quotation marks (‘).
Remember, the entire sentence (the quote or quotes and your words) must make sense logically and gramatically – as if the quote marks were not even there.
- Use ellipsis to edit down a quote (without changing its meaning)You can leave words out of a long quote – and indicate that you’ve skipped some material by including ellipsis. Example:
- According to the President, “Our national security is at risk…and we must protect our harbors with the best technology possible.”
In this example, the President might have talked about the nation’s risk, but the author removed words – without changing the meaning – to focus the quote on the issue of harbor protection.
- Adding words in brackets to aid comprehensionImagine you you want to use the following quote from Kanye West: “my music isn’t just music- it’s medicine.” You want to write:
- The hip-hop artist Kanye West has a high opinion of his own music and considers it to be, “my music isn’t just music – it’s medicine.”
But this doesn’t make any sense (try reading it out loud). You could rearrange your sentence to get the quote in there as it stands, or simply rewrite the original version:
- The hip-hop artist Kanye West has a high opinion of his own music and considers it to be, “[not] just music – [but] medicine.”
Inserting the words in brackets doesn’t change the meaning of the quote – in fact it makes it more compact, so that the focus stays on the essay and the context for the quote.
Bracketed words can be used to fix verb consistency, to change pronouns (he/she/it) to be consistent with the rest of the sentence, and even to insert information your reader will need in order to understand the quote.
- Provide a citationOf course the most important aspect to including quotations is accurately citing the source.You will be given a specific citation format to use (often ‘MLA’ or ‘APA’) in your writing, and depending on the format (there are many beyond these two) you will cite quotations differently. For instance, MLA uses an in-text paranthetical citation, and other formats use superscripts.
See our MLA and APA sections for more information (under construction).