Why Do We Use Quotations In Essays Do You Write

Writers Workshop: Writer Resources

Writing Tips: Quotations

A quotation is an exact reproduction of another speaker's or writer’s words. A quotation is different from a paraphrase, which is a restatement of someone else’s ideas entirely in your own words. Quotation and paraphrase, along with summary (which is a brief restatement of the main points of a longer work), are three ways of incorporating information from other sources into your own writing.

The Uses of Quotation

In most writing, you should use quotations for one or more of the following specific purposes:

Use quotation to reproduce distinctive, admirable, or felicitous phrasing--that is, when a paraphrase would be an inadequate representation.

  • In his Introduction to Lysistrata, Douglass Parker denies that the play is a "hoard of applied lubricity."

Use quotation when your source uses words in a specialized or unorthodox way.

  • Both Calidorus and Pseudolus agree that Phoenicium's letter is "terrible," but they mean different things.

Use quotation when the speaker or writer is an expert on the subject or an otherwise famous person whose specific words might be newsworthy, of general interest, or add credibility to your paper.

  • Samuel Pepys called Twelfth Night "one of the weakest plays that ever I saw on the stage."

Use quotation to reproduce important statements of information, opinion, or policy.

  • According to the Code on Campus Affairs, "No absence from class is excused."

Use quotation to reproduce exactly a passage that you are explaining or interpreting.

  • Corrigan refers to the world of comedy as a "protected realm."

The ultimate test of whether a quotation is necessary or not is this question: does it help support your thesis?

The Mechanics of Quotation

Any handbook used in Rhetoric or English courses will give you an acceptable format for incorporating quotations into your writing and punctuating them correctly. The MLA and APA handbooks provide guidance as well.

Punctuating quotations is simple, but the rules change slightly, depending on whether the quotation is documented or not. All of your quotations should be documented (usually by just a line or page number in parentheses), but it's important for you to know how documentation affects punctuation, so all the rules are given below.

Punctuating Quotations without Documentation

Periods and commas, whether or not they are part of the quoted material, always go inside the closing quotation marks:

  • "The comic mask," says Aristotle, "is ugly and distorted, but does not imply pain."

Colons and semicolons at the end of independent clauses which end with a quotation go outside the closing quotation marks:

  • Pseudolus calls Phoenicium's letter "terrible" he means it is badly written.

Question marks and exclamation points go inside or outside the closing quotation marks, depending on whether they are part of your sentence or the quoted sentence:

  • Malvolio asks, "My masters, are you mad?"
  • Why does Olivia call Malvolio "poor fool"?

An ellipsis (three spaced periods) goes in the middle of a quotation or at the end--never at the beginning. To indicate words omitted from inside a quotation, use three spaced periods:

  • "Some are born great . . . and some have greatness thrust upon ‘em."

If the quotation goes on where your sentence ends, you can mark the missing material with 4 spaced periods, the first following the last word of the quotation with no space:

  • Cesario’s most impressive speech begins, "Make me a willow cabin at your gate. . . ."

Verse (i.e., poetry) quotations of 3 lines or fewer should be incorporated directly into your paragraph, with a slash marking the division between lines:

  • Lysistrata ends with a religious invocation, "sing to honor her-- / Athene of the Bronze House! / Sing Athene!"

Prose quotations that are longer than 4 lines or verse quotations of more than 3 lines should be set off in block format. The text remains double-spaced, with no extra lines before or after the quotation. The left margin is indented one inch and the right margin remains the same. Poetry quoted in this format should have the same line divisions that you see in your book. Block quotations are commonly introduced by a clause ending with a colon. The block format itself takes the place of quotation marks.

Punctuating Quotations with MLA Documentation

Once the reader knows which edition of a text you are using, the only information necessary to document a quotation is a line or page number; the format varies slightly depending on the kind of work you are quoting:

For poems whose lines are numbered consecutively, from beginning to end, just use line numbers:

  • In "The Reeve’s Tale," the miller’s daughter has "eyen as greye as glas" (120).

For plays whose lines are numbered from the beginning of each scene, indicate act, scene, and line number:

  • Posing as Cesario, Viola tells Olivia, "I am not that I play" (1.5.187) .

Give page numbers for plays without line numbers and for prose works:

  • Aristotle defines comedy as "an imitation of characters of a lower type" (51).

Note too that since the parenthetical documentation must be considered part of the sentence containing the quoted material to which it refers, it must come after quotation marks but before terminal punctuation (commas, periods, and such at the end of clauses). Thus:

  • "My masters, are you mad?" becomes "My masters, are you mad?" (2.3.87).
  • "Make me a willow cabin at your gate . . ." (1.5.273).
  • Although the women of Greece swear to "withhold all rights of access or entrance" (32), they soon find their oath difficult to keep.

The exception to this general rule is for block quotations the parentheses come after the final period of the quotation, with no additional punctuation:

  • Lysistrata ends with a prayer to the patron goddess of Athens:

    Sing the greatest,
    sing the mightiest,
    sing the conqueror,
    sing to honor her--
    Athene of the Bronze House!
    Sing Athene! (113)

The Stylistics of Quotation

Besides mechanical correctness, you should strive for two other goals in your use of quotations: efficiency and grace.

As a rule, introduce quotations with a specific reference to their context--either events in the story, or ideas in the paragraph. Never introduce a quotation with just a line or page number:

  • Weak: On page 219, Pseudolus says he has "eyes like pumice stones."
  • Better: When Calidorus asks Pseudolus why Phoenicium's letter doesn't make him weep, Pseudolus responds that he has "eyes like pumice stones" (219).

Quote only as much of the text as is necessary to make your point. Don't quote several lines to establish the context of a single important line. Don't quote big chunks of the text to make your paper look long.

Select your quotations and build your sentences around them so that the whole is a grammatically correct unit. Don't quote complete sentences inside your own sentences.

  • Weak: Feste's statement that "Foolery, sir, does walk about the orb like the sun; it shines everywhere" (3.1.40-41) is an appropriate comment on the other characters in the play.
  • Better: Feste's comment that foolishness, like sunlight, "shines everywhere" (3.1.41) could be taken as the theme of Twelfth Night.

You can edit quotations to clarify them, or to make them fit the structure of your sentences, so long as you do not misrepresent the context of the quotation.

  • You can leave words out, marked by an ellipsis.
  • You can insert words, enclosed in square brackets.
  • You can replace words with others, enclosed in square brackets.

Using literary quotations

Use the guidelines below to learn how to use literary quotations.


 

For further information, check out Quoting, Paraphrasing, and Acknowledging Sources, or you may wish to see when the Writing Center is next offering its workshop entitled Intro to Literary Analysis.

Incorporating Quotations

  • As you choose quotations for a literary analysis, remember the purpose of quoting.

  • Your paper develops an argument about what the author of the text is doing--how the text "works."

  • You use quotations to support this argument; that is, you select, present, and discuss material from the text specifically to "prove" your point--to make your case--in much the same way a lawyer brings evidence before a jury.

  • Quoting for any other purpose is counterproductive.

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Punctuating and Indenting Quotations

For the most part, you must reproduce the spelling, capitalization, and internal punctuation of the original exactly.

The following alterations are acceptable:

Changing the closing punctuation

You may alter the closing punctuation of a quotation in order to incorporate it into a sentence of your own:

"Books are not life," Lawrence emphasized.

Commas and periods go inside the closing quotation marks; the other punctuation marks go outside.

Lawrence insisted that books "are not life"; however, he wrote exultantly about the power of the novel.

Why does Lawrence need to point out that "Books are not life"?

Using the slash when quoting poetry

When quoting lines of poetry up to three lines long (which are not indented, see Indenting quotations), separate one line of poetry from another with a slash mark (see examples in Incorporating Quotations into Sentences).

Using Ellipsis Points for Omitted Material

If for the sake of brevity you wish to omit material from a quoted passage, use ellipsis points (three spaced periods) to indicate the omission.

(See this sample paragraph. The writer quoted only those portions of the original sentences that related to the point of the analysis.)

Using Square Brackets when Altering Material

When quoting, you may alter grammatical forms such as the tense of a verb or the person of a pronoun so that the quotation conforms grammatically to your own prose; indicate these alterations by placing square brackets around the changed form.

In the following quotation "her" replaces the "your" of the original so that the quote fits the point of view of the paper (third person):

When he hears Cordelia's answer, Lear seems surprised, but not dumbfounded. He advises her to "mend [her] speech a little." He had expected her to praise him the most; but compared to her sisters', her remarks seem almost insulting (1.1.95).

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Indenting Quotations

Prose or verse quotations less than four lines long are not indented. For quotations of this length, use the patterns described above.

Indent "longer" quotations in a block about ten spaces in from the left margin; when a quotation is indented, quotation marks are not used.

The MLA Handbook (1995) recommends that indented quotations be double-spaced, but many instructors prefer them single-spaced. The meaning of "longer" varies slightly from one style system to another, but a general rule is to indent quotations that are more than two (or three) lines of verse or three (or four) lines of prose.

Indent dialogue between characters in a play. Place the speaker's name before the speech quoted:

CAESAR: Et tu, Brute! Then, fall, Caesar!

CINNA: Liberty! Freedom! Tyranny is dead! (3.1.77-78)

For more information see Quoting, Paraphrasing, and Acknowledging Sources - How to Quote a Source.

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Emphasizing Your Ideas

What to include in literary analysis

Take a look at this sample paragraph. It includes 3 basic kinds of materials:

  1. statements expressing the student's own ideas about the relationship Woolf is creating;

  2. data or evidence from the text in summarized, paraphrased, and quoted form; and

  3. discussion of how the data support the writer's interpretation.

The quotations are used in accordance with the writer's purpose, i.e. to show how the development of Mrs. Ramsey's feelings indicates something about her personality.

Should I quote?

Quoting is only one of several ways to present textual material as evidence.

You can also refer to textual data, summarize, and paraphrase. You will often want merely to refer or point to passages (as in the third sentence in the sample paragraph) that contribute to your argument.

In other cases you will want to paraphrase, i.e. "translate" the original into your own words, again instead of quoting. Summarize or paraphrase when it is not so much the language of the text that justifies your position, but the substance or content.

Quote selectively

Similarly, after you have decided that you do want to use material in quoted form, quote only the portions of the text specifically relevant to your point.

Think of the text in terms of units--words, phrases, sentences, and groups of sentences (paragraphs, stanzas)--and use only the units you need.

If it is particular words or phrases that "prove" your point, you do not need to quote the sentences they appear in; rather, incorporate the words and phrases into sentences expressing your own ideas.

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Maintaining Clarity and Readability

Introduce your quotations

Introduce a quotation either by indicating what it is intended to show or by naming its source, or both.

For non-narrative poetry, it's customary to attribute quotations to "the speaker"; for a story with a narrator, to "the narrator."

For plays, novels, and other works with characters, identify characters as you quote them.

Do not use two quotations in a row, without intervening material of your own.

For further information see Quoting, Paraphrasing, and Acknowledging Sources - How to Quote a Source.

Pay attention to verb tense

Tense is a tricky issue. It's customary in literary analysis to use the present tense; it is at the present time that you (and your reader) are looking at the text.

But events in a narrative or drama take place in a time sequence. You will often need to use a past tense to refer to events that took place before the moment you are presently discussing:

When he hears Cordelia's answer, Lear seems surprised, but not dumbfounded. He advises her to "mend [her] speech a little." He had expected her to praise him the most; but compared to her sisters', her remarks seem almost insulting (1.1.95).

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Documenting Quotations

Follow your course instructor's guidelines for documenting sources. If your instructor hasn't told you which system to use to document sources, ask.

Keep in mind that when you are writing a paper about the same text and quoting from the same edition that everyone else in the class is, instructors will often allow you to use informal documentation. In this case just include the page number in parentheses after the quotation or reference to the text. To be sure, though, you should ask your course instructor.

The documentation style used in this pages is that presented in the 1995 MLA Handbook, but other style systems are commonly used. The Writing Center has information about the rules of documentation in general and about a number of the most common systems, such as APA, APSA, CBE, Chicago/Turabian, MLA, and Numbered References.

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