Quotations in Academic Papers

Analyzing Quotations

When quoting material, accomplish at least one of the tasks listed below.  Don’t even dream about doing all this for each quotation, but make sure you at least do something.  This list should help you when you come across something that seems important, but you’re not sure how to work it into your paper. 

Below each main point, you will find a few suggestions concerning how to pull it off.  You shouldn’t try to pull off all the mini-suggestions either, but they can help guide you if you’re not sure what the best way to handle a quote is.

Put the quote in your paper and...

* Paraphrase it.
- Put it in simple terms that make it clear what it means.
- Use wording consistent with the rest of the paper when you paraphrase it.
- Use wording that will make its relevancy clear. 
- For example, maybe you could reuse some of the key words in your thesis.
- This technique is particularly useful if you’re quoting something difficult to understand, perhaps because it uses jargon or archaic language.

* Respond to it.
- If some people may think your quotation and source are unreliable, then why do you think the evidence is compelling anyway? 
- Or to put it simply, respond to the quotation by supporting and defending it.
- If the quotation goes against your argument, then why do you disagree with it?
- Note that you don’t need to respond to every single objection going against your thinking, but you should respond to common arguments or ones from authoritative sources.
- Are there any caveats you should make regarding the quote? 
- For instance, is it a bit exaggerated?  Possibly a bit outdated?  Based on a study with significant limitations?
- Is there anything you would add to the quotation?

* Explain it.
- Does the reader need to know more about the person who uttered the quotation in order to understand the full significance of it?
- Does the reader need to know more about the quotation’s context in order to understand the full significance of it?
- Time, situation, location, surrounding text, surrounding conversation, and more are parts of the context.
- Are there any confusing points in the quotation you need to make clear so that the reader knows what it means and why it’s relevant to your argument?
- Like paraphrasing, this technique is particularly useful if you’re quoting something difficult to understand, perhaps because it uses jargon or archaic language.
- Are there any subtle implications to the quotation that the reader might miss on their own?
- Is the quotation using a form of figurative language that helps reinforce its point?
- Is the quotation given in a tone that helps reinforce its point?

* Generalize from it.
- What situations could you apply the quotation to?
- If the quotation was given in a certain context that’s different from the context you’re exploring in your paper, then how can the quotation be considered relevant?
- For instance, if a British person commented on the economy in the 1850s and you’re writing about the American economy today, then how does the quotation present an overriding truth that applies to our times as well?
- You might explain that the quotation is a timeless truth or was uttered in a context similar to the one you’re exploring.
- If the quotation was given while explaining something different from your topic, then how could it apply to your topic as well?
- For instance, look at this quote from 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, NIV 1984: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?  You are not your own; you were bought at a price.  Therefore honor God with your body.”  In context, the author was discussing sexual morality.  But could you also use the quotation to defend the importance of living a healthy lifestyle?  And if so, why?
- Does the quotation suggest that your topic has implications for people beyond the target audience?
- For example, if you quote a magazine article about how to be a loving wife, could it apply to husbands as well?  To girlfriends?  To anyone that wants to be a nice person?
- Does the quotation imply that your topic has significant implications for our lives?  For research outside of your field?  For many different subsections within your field?

* Point out the significance of it.
- Basically, why should anyone care about your quotation? 
- What are the full implications of your quotation?
- Has this quotation been used to inspire others (for better or for worse)?
- Is this a famous quote, and if so, then in what situations do most people make a reference to it?

No matter what, the quotation and your explanation of it should somehow help you reinforce your argument, thesis, or general message.

Verbs to Introduce Quotations

Whenever you use a quotation in an academic paper, you’re expected to attribute it to someone (or something).  Basically, who said it?  Although you could use the verb says, that’s awfully dry and vague.  Try something else.  Here are a few examples:

“Many people stay away from the mansion because they think it’s haunted,” Professor E. Gadd said in a recent interview with Bogus magazine (24).  [Let’s try that again...]
“Many people stay away from the mansion because they think it’s haunted,” Professor E. Gadd explained in a recent interview with Bogus magazine (24).

While the thinker acknowledges that absolute truth can be difficult to find, he insists that it must be possible.  “Some people claim there is no absolute truth,” he observes.  “However, to say that it is an absolute truth that there is no absolute truth is nothing short of absurd” (Miller 64).

It may also be helpful or necessary to clarify who the target audience of the quotation was (or is).

“The enchanting young woman had long brunette hair that sparkled like a broken beer bottle in the sun,” the narrator tells us [readers].  “Yet, she had a terrible secret she kept hidden from the world” (Miller 255).

In this pivotal scene, the meek Rima Kujou demonstrates that she has finally become more courageous by shouting to the entire assembly, “I think you’re all a bunch of liars!” (Miller 143).

“Do you honestly believe that it’s dangerous to send your children out trick-or-treating?” the talk show host asked the overprotective mother on live TV.  “Well, what if I told you there’s never been a reported case of anyone poisoning trick-or-treat candy?” (Miller 349).

Verbs such as those above are not limited to direct quotations, however.  You can also use them when an author is trying to get a point across, especially in fiction.

In this chapter, Dickens illustrates how winning money does not satisfy greed, but rather exacerbates it.
In this chapter, Dickens implies that winning money does not satisfy greed, but rather exacerbates it.
In this chapter, Dickens reinforces the theme that winning money does not satisfy greed, but rather exacerbates it.
In this chapter, Dickens warns the reader that winning money does not satisfy greed, but rather exacerbates it.

Do not pick strong-sounding verbs willy-nilly.  Think about them carefully and pick the one most pertinent to the current situation.  For instance, in the sample sentences above, I’d go with warns if the author is making his point quite blatantly, but implies if he’s being more subtle.

When all else fails, claims and declares work well in many contexts, but there is often a more specific word you could use.

List of Quotation Verbs

In order to introduce or analyze a quote or passage, consider using one of the following verbs:

calls for
makes clear
points out
reflects on
reminds us
says (use only as a last resort)

according to X, “
in the words of X, “

(Do not use the word proves; this is usually far too strong.)

Other Tips for Introducing and Using Quotations

Typically, quotes can be introduced smoothly by using that right before them.  In this case, do not set off the quotation with a comma or capitalize the first word (unless, of course, that first word is a name or something else usually capitalized in the middle of sentences).

A comma instead of that often works fine, though it might sound like an awkward pause in some situations.
- Vyse’s father declares, “Acting quickly and rushing are two completely different things.”

Use colons sparingly, and make sure that a full sentence precedes the colon.
- Vyse’s father often recites what he considers to be one of the most important lessons a commander can learn: “Acting quickly and rushing are two completely different things.”

Fiction writers do not “explain” their theme: they “convey,” “illustrate,” or “depict” it.  Other verbs are possible, but avoid dry-sounding, scientific ones.

When quoting verse (such as a poem), remember to use a slash (/) to indicate line breaks.  Capitalize the first letter of every line if that’s how the poem is written.  If you’re omitting words, put the ellipsis on the side of the slash that has words being omitted.
- The familiar poem reads, “Roses are red, / Violets are blue.”

An ellipsis is a “dot dot dot” put in to show that part of a quotation has been removed.  In formal writing, make sure there is a space between each dot.  To make sure all the dots stay on the same line in your paper, use “non-breaking spaces.”  You can do this in Microsoft Word by hitting CTRL, SHIFT, and SPACE all at the same time . . . if you want to.

If you use a quotation with a grammatical or spelling error in it, place “[sic]” immediately after the error to show that you’re quoting the material accurately, not just making mistakes yourself.
- “I believe Abraham Lincon [sic] was one of our greatest presidents,” the senator wrote on his website.

Block quotes, ones that are longer than four lines, are flushed (lined up) on the left side as if tabbed out.  Punctuation does not follow the citation at the end.  So, here’s an example:
Here I am typing an example of a block quote, which is one that is four lines or longer.  You don’t use quotation marks with them, but rather introduce them beforehand with a sentence ending in a colon.  They should be indented out on the left side.  For once, you put the citation after the period in MLA format, which doesn’t really make sense, but oh well.  I would recommend avoiding block quotes since they break your flow.  Instead, try analyzing them a few lines at a time. (Miller 3)
You then continue that paragraph as usual without any indentation, as I have done here.
- You should also use the block quotation format if you quote three or more lines of verse (poetry).

The basics of this article, including some of the verbs for introducing quotes and some of the advice for handling quotations, come from my old AP English teacher back in high school.  I have extrapolated from his material a great deal here, however.

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Last Updated May 7th, 2015

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