Effectively Using Direct QuotationsWriter's Web
(printable version here)

Use a Quotation:

  • to emphasize a point you've made.
  • to provide an example.
  • to show an author's intention.
  • to show how historical figures spoke or thought.

Short Quotations:

  • use quotation marks.
  • make sentences smoothly flow from your words to those quoted, as in these examples that follow MLA format:

    As Coach Clark explained, "We lost the game because we were overconfident and failed to take the other team's defense seriously enough" (32).

    The coach notes that "most of the guys on State's team have much less experience than our players, but they certainly have talent and a desire to win" (33).

Note how the writer sets up the quotations with "explained" and "notes that."

Long Quotations:

Check with your instructor for the system of documentation you should be using (MLA, Chicago, APA, etc). Note that some professors recommend that you single-space within long quotations. Do not use quotation marks for long quotations.

  • For MLA: --For quotations of more than four typed lines, indent ten spaces from the left margin, and double-space within the quotation. End the last sentence before the quotation with a colon, which indicates the continuation of your sentence and replaces the "set up" shown above for short quotations. Consult MLA Guidelines
  • For Chicago/Turabian: --For quotations that run two or more sentences and four or more typed lines, indent four spaces from the left margin and single-space within the quotation (Turabian calls these "block quotations"). Consult Turabian Guidelines
  • For APA: --For quotations longer than 40 words, indent the quotation five spaces, and double-space within the quotation. Consult APA Guidelines

How to Alter Quotations or Use Parts of Quotations:

Indicate alterations with square brackets. For example, if you need to supply a character's name where a quotation has a personal pronoun, or a pronoun for a noun. Here's an example using the MLA system:

"Rome had several 'mad emperors.' [Nero] was the maddest of them all" (Smith 32).

The original might have read, "He was the maddest of them all," but you need to specify Nero since you're not using more lines from your source. Also note that for quotations within quotations, we change from double to single quotation marks ('mad emperors' above).

Indicate breaks in quoting with ellipsis points. This is an obscure area of grammar that drives both students and professors crazy, because the rules vary somewhat between systems of documentation (consult the MLA, APA, or Chicago guides at the library for details). Even some of the printed handbooks in the Writing Center have different rules for this type of punctuation! In general, however, use a blank space, three points, then another space when you omit material in the middle of a sentence, and four when skipping between sentences. If you break at the end of a sentence and then move to another, include the final punctuation mark from the first sentence.

"Rome had several mad emperors. [Nero] was the maddest of them all. . . . Legend has it . . . he played his harp while the city went up in flames" (Smith 32)

"What, then, was the origin of the Nero's legendary concert? . . . Historians have provided several interpretations of the genesis of this event" (Smith 33).

Note that the four ellipsis points after the second sentence show that we've skipped to a different part of the same passage, whereas the three ellipsis points show that the sentence beginning "Legend" has been abbreviated.

Notes on Fairness:

  • You should not abbreviate quotations so they misrepresent their author's original meaning. For example, if you cited the quotation above as a fact rather than a legend about Nero, you'd be misrepresenting the original author's intention. Check the context!
  • Double-check the original. A direct quotation must exactly follow the wording of the original, except where you use ellipsis points or square brackets (see above).

Look at examples of quotations from a paper

Let's recap a few pointers about using quotations:

  • Don't overuse quotations; use them to emphasize a point or support your argument.
  • Avoid long quotations when a short one will suffice.
  • Don't take quotations out of context to misrepresent the original author's opinion. Read the entire source carefully if possible.
  • Be certain you understand any technical terms the author uses.
  • Always introduce your quotations.
  • Avoid boring introductions.
  • Use a variety of sources. All of the sources used here came from one magazine; that magazine might have an editorial policy that limits its range of opinions on an issue!

Back to 'Using Sources'
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