Undoubtedly, we all use quotes in our papers quite frequently. But it’s easy to forget that inserting a quote is not as simple as tossing it into a paragraph and being done with it. It’s easy to overlook all the nit-picky aspects that must be considered when incorporating quotes.
Here is a rundown of some foundational steps to remember in the quoting process:
Determine which type of quote is best: full-length or fragment
The first thing you should decide when incorporating a quote is whether you want to include it in full-length–a sentence or more–or just a fragment. This question pretty much solves itself; if you feel like you need the full-length quote, use the full-length quote. If you feel like you only need a few specific words, or a fragment of a passage, just use that fragment.
Inserting a fragment
Inserting a fragmented quote is pretty simple and, most often, intuitive. Because you’re only using a phrase, all you need to do is place it in your sentence so that it makes grammatical sense. For example, “Joe Bob claims that Billy Joe’s ‘increased self-esteem’ greatly influenced her decision to move to the city.’” Done.
Inserting a full-length quote: making a quote sandwich
Hopefully, we have all learned to some degree how to incorporate full-length quotes. Most of us were probably told that quotes need to be prefaced by a “lead-in” and followed by our own reflection. I like to think of this process as padding the quote, or making a kind of sandwich:
*forewarning: completely made-up, potentially nonsensical examples are included in the following section
- 1st slice of bread: the lead-in. You want to include some phrase of your own that introduces the quote.
∙ If it’s a quote from someone’s article or book, it can be as simple as: “In his/her article [insert title of article], [insert name of author] writes, [insert quote].” If you want to convey a little more in your quote introduction, you can substitute “writes” with another verb like “discusses,” followed by what you want to say and then a colon before the quote. For example, “In [article title], [author name] discusses the complex politics of gummy bear assimilation: [insert quote].”
∙ If it’s a quote from a literary passage, you’ll want to provide the context and section of the work from which the quote comes. I like to follow this with a colon, as described above, so that I can insert the quote directly afterwards without having to worry about writing, “[author’s name writes . . .” or, “The narrator writes . . .” This could look something like: “Just after Bob begins his harrowing journey to Neverland, he begins to experience intense emotional turmoil: [insert quote].” Or, “As Bill sees Henrietta walk away, his sorrow is described in a series of intricate metaphors: [insert quote].”
∙ If you’re writing a history paper and quoting a historical figure, you could write, “[name] once said, [insert quote].” Or, if you’re quoting an anonymous person from a newspaper article or some such source, you could write, “According to one woman, [insert quote].” There are so many different ways to introduce a quote; it just depends on the type of source from which you are quoting and the type of quote itself. The bottom line is, every full-length quote needs something in front of it that explains where and/or who it is coming from.
- The middle, a.k.a. the good stuff: the quote itself. This does not require much explanation: simply insert the quote you are wanting to use.
- 2nd slice of bread: the follow-up. After the quote, you want to follow up with a sentence or two of your own analysis and explanation of how the quote supports the argument you’re making in that particular paragraph. You could use phrases like, “Clearly . . .” or “[name of speaker in quote] sheds light on . . .” Basically, you just need to follow up with any sort of statement that summarizes the implications of the quote or that elaborates/provides your own spin on the content of the quote. Now, if it is a quote from a literary passage, you should have a more detailed follow-up; it is important that you analyze every aspect of the quote, including the word choice, devices used, etc. Sometimes I will even have three sentences of analysis after a quote, but it is better to go more in depth and ensure that you have sufficiently analyzed the quote rather than to provide a surface-level, too-brief follow-up.
Ask yourself: do I really, absolutely need this quote?
This is an important question, because you want to make sure that when you include a quote, you include it because it furthers your argument in some way. Make sure that your quote is not there for the sole reason that you need to include a quote in that paragraph, and make sure that it does not simply summarize what you just articulated. It should include a new perspective or piece of information or evidence–even just a different way of saying something that provides insight on your argument or what you’re trying to say.
These guidelines do not by any means cover all situations of quoting. (I have not even touched on the use of ellipses in quotes, but that’s a post for another day). There is a plethora of different types of quotes and ways in which you can incorporate them, and different genres also have different standards. These are just tips that I have gleaned from experience. It is probably clear that I am most familiar with literary analysis essays; much of my advice is specific to that genre, because that is what I know. However, I believe that these suggestions are still good basic, foundational things to remember when using quotes in an academic paper. Hopefully, they will remind you of the framework through which you should be thinking when it comes to inserting quotes into your next paper.