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Writing for College: Incorporating Quotes in an Essay

Updated on September 12, 2014

What is a Direct Quote?

A direct quote is a phrase or complete sentence taken word for word from a relevant source. Quotation marks should appear in front of the first word and after the last word of the quote.

When to Use a Direct Quote

Never use unnecessary quotations or excessively long quotations. Use only the exact part of the text that is needed, and paraphrase or summarize where appropriate.

The University College Writing Center suggests four situations in which to provide a direct quote:

  1. The language of the passage is particularly elegant or powerful or memorable.
  2. You wish to confirm the credibility of your argument by enlisting the support of an authority on your topic.
  3. The passage is worthy of further analysis.
  4. You wish to argue with someone else's position in considerable detail.

These suggestions are more applicable in English and History papers, which rely closely on the original text. A good rule of thumb for an English essay is to provide at least one direct quote for each body paragraph. A Human Services or Psychology professor may expect more paraphrased and summarized information, placing the emphasis on your understanding and articulation of the source.

Ways to Introduce a Quote

As a courtesy to the reader, always introduce direct quotations. You must alert the reader to who is speaking in the quote, and provide a verb of saying. If it is not clear what text is being quoted from, you should provide the name of the work and the author. The most basic and simple way to introduce a quote is:

In Hamlet, by William Shakespeare, Hamlet says in his famous soliloquy: “to be, or not to be, that is the question.”

However, this construction used over and over again will become boring and repetitive.

You can reverse the order:

“To be, or not to be, that is the question,” says Hamlet in the famous soliloquy in Hamlet, by William Shakespeare.

But even that will become boring. You can change the verb (see below for ideas for introductory verbs), but ideally you should fit the quote perfectly into your sentence, and break it up if need be. For the following quote it was already clear that the film was the modern film adaption of Hamlet, directed by Michael Almereyda;

The film frames Hamlet within immense pressure as he considers his only two options: to exist under “[t]h’oppressor’s wrong”(3.1.73) and avenge his father, or to his own “quietus make” (3.1.77).

Don't let yourself be overwhelmed by quotes!
Don't let yourself be overwhelmed by quotes! | Source

Verbs to Introduce a Quote

Think about the tone of what is said in your quote and choose a verb that makes sense to describe it. Here are a few ideas:

exclaims

questions

comments

states

concludes

summarizes

proclaims

whines

signifies

provides

Grammar Concerns

The quote is a part of your sentence, and therefore needs to fit the grammar of your sentence. If it does not (for example, if the quote is in first person but your sentence is in third), changes can be made to the quote, signified by brackets:

Celnart tells us in the Gentleman and Lady’s Book of Propriety and Deportment that the widow’s period of mourning lasted more than twice as long as the widower’s. She implies that the widow was expected to be so incapacitated by grief that “for a fortnight at least, and sometimes even in the first six weeks, [she] ought not to sew, even while receiving relations and intimate friends, so much [was she] supposed to be depressed by [her] affliction.”9

9 Elmira Newcomb. “The Diary of Elmira Newcomb.” (Personal diary, 1867). June 4, 1867.

Ellipses (…) are only needed in the middle of a quote if something is left out. Ellipses are not needed at the end of the quote unless they are part of the original text.

If you are quoting from a poem or song, show where the line ends and a new line begins with a slash (/) and a space on either side of the slash:

Ironically, Hodgen uses a historical figure to describe the nature of history in the poem “History:” “the beautiful trash we call history, / which Napoleon said wonderfully was the collection of lies we agree to believe in” (Hodgen).

Citing a Quote

The proper citation for a quote depends on what citation guideline you are following, but quotations should always be followed by an on-text citation, or a foot note. In MLA format the in-text citation should follow directly after the quote, and before any punctuation. For more about avoiding plagiarism and citing sources, see the OWL at Purdue.

Example of a Direct Quote

In her etiquette book, The Gentleman and Lady’s Book of Propriety and Deportment, 1833, Elisabeth Celnart compares the mourning responsibilities of men and women: “custom requires that a woman should wear mourning for her husband a year and six weeks, while that of a widower is only six months. This difference, which may appear singular, is founded upon reasons of convenience and social relations.”[1] Though Celnart herself is a woman, she does not seem to pass much judgment on this discrepancy or explore the impact of these “reasons of convenience and social relations.” While Celnart ignores the implications of these inconsistencies, this paper will explore them. What accounts for the differences in mourning customs of widows and widowers in the early 1800’s?

[1] Elisabeth Celnart. The Gentleman and Lady’s book of Politeness and Propriety of Deportment: Dedicated to Youth of Both Sexes. Boston: Allen and Ticknor, and Carter Hendee & Co., 1833. 210.

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