Building Quotations into Your Writing

Citing the exact words of your sources is vital to writing a research paper. Quotations provide credibility and bolster your thesis when used correctly, but misused quotes can easily damage the flow of your writing and your argument. Watch out for these common mistakes:

Too many quotes

If more than one-quarter of your paper is comprised of quotations, you may not be sufficiently synthesizing the material but instead pasting the ideas of your sources together. When you rewrite, spend more time summarizing or paraphrasing and building the information into your own thesis.

Using long quotations when unnecessary

Sometimes quoting a long passage is needed to present a detailed argument completely. But long quotations that contain irrelevant material or ideas that could have been summarized break up the flow of your paper. Even worse, they demonstrate that you either didn't understand the material, were too lazy to summarize, or are trying to stretch the word count. Be selective with your quotations and summarize or use ellipses to cut out fluff.

Injecting a quotation

A quote is "injected" into your writing if you do not integrate the idea into your own topic through a signal phrase or further explanation. For example:

After seeing the ghost of his father, Hamlet goes crazy. "As I perchance hereafter shall think meet/ To put an antic disposition on" (Shakespeare, 1.5.167-168). In the next scene, Ophelia tells her father of the strange way Hamlet approached her.

The quote relates to the argument of the writer, but the writer has not explained how the quote is important, how it supports her argument, or what it means. Not only does the section sound awkward, but it shows that the writer has not fully thought through the connection.

The writer can fix this section by using a signal phrase (in bold), which introduces the quote and its significance:

After seeing the ghost of his father, Hamlet states his intention to act mad by telling the men, "I perchance hereafter shall think meet/ To put an antic disposition on" (Shakespeare, 1.5.167-168). In the next scene Ophelia describes the strange mannerisms Hamlet has now adopted.

She can also integrate the quote into her sentence, as if it were her own words:

After seeing the ghost of his father, Hamlet decides "to put an antic disposition on" (Shakespeare, 1.5.168) so others would think he has gone mad.

Other things to keep in mind when using quotations:

  • Always cite your sources using the proper style.
  • Paraphrasing is to restate an idea in your own words while retaining the precise meaning and emphasis. Use synonyms and your own sentence structure, but do not distort the meaning of the original text.
  • Summarizing is to condense a passage in your own words so that you identify the main points but present the idea more concisely.
  • Vary your verb usage in signal phrases. For example, do not repeatedly write "Smith says...." or "Smith writes..." Be more precise; is the author explaining, arguing, asserting, maintaining?

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