A quotation (sometimes called a direct quotation) is when you use the exact language from a source and place that language into your own paper. This is significantly different from both paraphrase and summary, as you do not rephrase any part of the original language into your own words—in fact, it is important when directly quoting a source to be careful to exactly copy the source’s original language word for word.
- To retain the powerful, specialized, or unique language of the original
- To demonstrate authority
- To present an opposing view
If the original text is phrased in a way that is particularly powerful and paraphrasing it would be likely to weaken it, direct quotation is a good option. This is also true when the language of the original source is so special or unique that it can’t be reasonably rephrased.
Direct quotation can demonstrate that existing authoritative sources support a point you are making. It can also present an opposing view to your own for you to then discuss. It can be useful to present opposing views as direct quotes to avoid the risk of personal bias affecting the language of a paraphrase.
Why It’s Important to Limit Quotes
It is generally a good idea to limit quotes—don’t rely too heavily on them in a paper. Remember that most of your paper should be in your own words and in your own voice. It’s also a good rule of thumb to avoid using unnecessarily long quotes. If a quote is longer than a sentence or two, it is a good idea to examine whether the full quote is needed or if a summary, paraphrase, or just part of the quote would do the job you need done.
If you do find you need to use only part of a quote, it is very important to make sure that the part of the quote you are using doesn’t change the meaning of the quote. Be careful to retain the parts of the quote that accurately represent what the author was originally saying.
How Should I Organize a Quote?
Like paraphrase, quotation will only play a supporting role in your written work. Many of the guidelines for incorporating quotation into your written work will look familiar if you have already read the summary and paraphrase sections of this text, but quotation does have some special rules.
Introduce the author and original text (and potentially context), just as you would for a summary or paraphrase. Often this introduction is only an introductory phrase, in which case it would be followed by a comma and the quote would begin immediately after this phrase as part of the same sentence. Example: According to Amelia Smith, a researcher affiliated with Harvard, “[insert quote here].”
After introducing the author and text, you will deliver the quote. This is often as simple as copying and pasting the relevant material from the original text. Direct quotes need to have quotation marks (“”) around them, the first quotation mark just before the first word of the quote and the end quotation mark just after the last word of the quote.
The only exception to the requirement of quotation marks is when using a block quote. A block quote is quoted material that takes up space on four or more consecutive lines of your paper. This kind of quote has a significantly different set of formatting rules, but should also be used very sparingly because it takes up so much valuable space in your paper. If you’re interested in learning more about what block quotes do differently, have a look at the “MLA Formatting Quotations” article from the Purdue OWL (at owl.english.purdue.edu); scroll down a bit to find the section titled “Long Quotations”.
Include a parenthetical citation (if appropriate) at the end of the quote. (To learn how to do this correctly, see the discussion of in-text citation in “Crediting and Citing Your Sources,” part of the “Using Sources Correctly” section of this text.)
After delivering and citing the quote, reconnect that information to your own topic and point.
Check Your Understanding: Work with Quotation
What the reconnection component of using a quote looks like is going to vary depending on the type of essay you’re writing, your intended audience, and how you’re presenting the information to that audience. Introduction, delivery, and citation tend to look pretty similar regardless of those factors, so let’s practice those components here.
Using the same article as in the “Paraphrasing” section (see the section just before this one), written by Sarah Boxer and published online in The Atlantic, I’m going to quote just the third sentence of the passage we looked at in the paraphrasing activity: “Because not everyone who wants the experience actually gets the experience, these works, even if their intentions and messages are democratic, tend to become exclusive affairs.”
Which of these uses of that sentence would be a correct way to use it as a quote in my own essay? There may be more than one correct answer.
- As Sarah Boxer observes in her article about Yayoi Kusama’s “Infinity Mirrors” exhibit, “Because not everyone who wants the experience actually gets the experience, these works, even if their intentions and messages are democratic, tend to become exclusive affairs.”
- Because not everyone who wants the experience actually gets the experience, these works, even if their intentions and messages are democratic, tend to become exclusive affairs (Boxer).
- Carrying these ideas into the art world, Sarah Boxer notes, “everyone who wants the experience actually gets the experience…their intentions and messages are democratic.”
- One article published recently in The Atlantic addresses this directly, stating, “Because not everyone who wants the experience actually gets the experience, these works, even if their intentions and messages are democratic, tend to become exclusive affairs” (Boxer).
- “Because not everyone who wants the experience actually gets the experience, these works, even if their intentions and messages are democratic, tend to become exclusive affairs.”
See the Appendix, Results for the “Check Your Understanding” Activities, for answers.