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Using Quotations in Your Writing


									Using Quotations in Your

        Mrs. Snipes
      Troy High School
   In writing about literature, use direct
    quotations from the text(s) you are
    analyzing. They help to establish your
    critical authority and they have stronger
    weight than the other forms of evidence,
    such as paraphrase and summary.
    Quotations also enliven an essay by
    varying your style with samples of the
   On the other hand, quotations should not be
    overused, so that the paper becomes a
    patchwork of quoted passages, stitched
    together with a few transitional sentences. If
    the excerpts can speak for themselves, the
    reader may just as well read the original.
    Quotations should be brief and emphatic,
    reserved for reinforcing a main point or
    demonstrating a feature of the author‟s style.
Principles for effective use of
Quotations in Writing:
1. Limit most quotations to single words or phrases:
     To reinforce a point:
         The Misfit is a ruthless killer. Yet,
         surprisingly, when he removes his
         glasses, his eyes seem ―pale and
         defenseless-looking‖ (O’Connor 1135).
     To comment on the author‟s style:
         Laertes says that the ―folly‖ of his tears at
         Ophelia’s death ―drowns‖ his ―speech of
         fire‖ (Hamlet, 4.6.186 – 192). This metaphor
         not only expresses his feeling of helplessness,
         it alludes to the way his beloved sister died—by
   Note: Be especially wary about quoting
    passages over four lines long in your paper,
    which have to be indented and single-spaced.
    A useful guideline is to include no more than
    one long quotation for every 500 words (or two
    typed, double spaced pages) of a paper. Such
    long excerpts should not be wasted on
    summarizing the plot or on repeating
    paraphrased ideas.
Ineffective use of long
   “„Now look here, Bailey,‟ she said, „see here, read this,‟
    and she stood with one hand on her thin hip and the other
    rattling the newspaper at his bald head. „Here this fellow
    that called himself the Misfit is aloose from the Federal
    Pen and headed toward Florida and you read here what it
    says he did to these people. Just you read it. I wouldn‟t
    take my children in any direction with a criminal like that
    aloose in it‟” (“A Good Man is Hard to Find” 1123). The
    grandmother begins by trying to persuade her son,
    Bailey, into changing his plans of going to Florida for the
    weekend. She does not feel it is safe for the family to go
    to Florida because the criminal is heading there.
   Here the writer‟s “commentary” is really a monotonous
    repetition of the ideas in the passage.
Effective Commentary:
   Early on in the story, we get a clear sense of
    the grandmother‟s methods. She wants the
    family to vacation in Tennessee rather than
    Florida. She uses forms of persuasion that she
    thinks are subtle: seizing on a sensationalist
    news story, looming over her grown son,
    prodding his sense of fatherly responsibility.
    She would say that she has the family‟s best
    interests at heart. But to the long-suffering
    Bailey, she is a bully and an irritant.
2. In introducing a quotation, make the
  context clear—by describing the
  situation, the speaker, or both.
Context Unclear:
   Juliet does not want to obey. “When I do,
    I swear / It shall be Romeo, whom you
    know I hate, / Rather than Paris”
Context Clear:
   Secretly married to her family‟s enemy, Juliet
    rejects her mother‟s order to marry the gallant
    young count: “When I do, I swear / It shall be
    Romeo, whom you know I hate, / Rather than
    Paris” (3.5.122-24).
   Note: A slash, with a space before and after it,
    is used to separate lines of verse and poetry. If
    the quotation is longer than three lines, indent
    it to ten spaces and single space it, but do not
    use slashes.
3. In introducing a quotation, do not call
  attention to the page or act number. That
  creates a false emphasis, and
  sometimes confuses literature and life.
  Instead, describe the situation.
   Wrong: On page 48, Nick first meets
    Gatsby, whom he describes as “an
    elegant young roughneck.”
   Right: It is at one of the wildly
    extravagant parties that Nick first meets
    Gatsby, whom he describes as “an
    elegant young roughneck (Fitzgerald
   Wrong: Near the end of scene three, Macbeth
    describes the king‟s “gashed stabs” and Lady
    Macbeth faints.
   Right: As Macbeth is describing the murdered
    king, with his “gashed stabs,” Lady Macbeth
    faints (2.3.107-21).
   Note: The exception is if the location in the
    literature is relevant to the point being made.
   Act III, in Hamlet as in most of Shakespeare‟s
    tragedies, marks the climax of the action.
4. Make the transition between your words
  and the author‟s clear and smooth.
   No transition: Juliet‟s father is very angry.
    “Out, you green-sickness carrion” (3.5.157).
   Smooth transition: Juliet‟s father is furious.
    He curses at her in morbid terms: “Out, you
    green-sickness carrion” (3.5.157).
   Smooth transition: Juliet‟s father is so angry
    that he calls his young daughter “green-
    sickness carrion” (3.5.157).
   In other words, use the introduction of a
    quotation to focus on its salient qualities,
    to support your interpretation.
   Note: Before a complete sentence in
    quotation marks, a colon ( : ) or a
    comma is needed. No punctuation is
    used before a word or phrase, as in
    “green-sickness carrion.”
5. Make the structure of your sentence
  conform to that of the author.

 Original: “I have a speech of fire, that
 fain would blaze / But that this
 folly drowns it” (4.6.191-92).
   By beginning the quotation at a
    convenient point:
       Laertes says that he could express
       his outrage in a “speech of fire”
   By using an ellipsis (three spaced
    periods) to show that something from the
    original has been omitted:

       Laertes claims that his “speech of fire
       . . . would blaze” if the “folly” of his
       grief did not prevent it” (4.6.191-92).
   By using brackets to change something in the
    original but without changing the meaning:
    - a noun to a pronoun, or vice versa
        The grandmother does not give any
        details of the crime reported in the
        newspaper story. She describes it
        only as “what it says [the Misfit] did
        to these people.”
  - a verb or pronoun from one person to another
       Juliet describes Romeo to her
       unsuspecting mother as someone
       whom Lady Capulet “know[s]” that
       Juliet “hate[s].”

       Laertes claims that his “speech of fire…
       would blaze” if the “folly” of his tears did not
       “drown [ ] it” (4.6.191-92).
Note: The empty brackets show that the verb ending has
  been omitted.
- A past tense (in which most stories are
written) to the historical present (in which
critical essays must be written
     The grandmother tries to intimidate
     Bailey by “[standing] with one hand
     on her thin hip” and “rattling the
     newspaper” at him.
- A puzzling word to a clearer synonym

    Polonius calls Ophelia “a green
    [inexperienced] girl” (Hamlet, 1.3.
- An error in style or reasoning that occurs
  in the original, indicated by the Latin
  word sic, meaning thus.
      Keats, always an uncertain speller,
      wrote in one letter, “I shall go to
      town tommorrow [sic] to see him.”
Note: Because sic is a foreign word, it
  must be italicized.
   The parentheses should not be used in place
    of brackets. They indicate an afterthought or
    minor point from in the original text. The
    brackets mean “editor‟s note”—the signal to
    the reader that the original thread has been
   But use brackets and ellipses sparingly; they
    can be cumbersome and distracting. The
    preferred method of creating smooth
    transitions is careful excerpting.
6. The critics own sentence should not be
  interrupted with a long quotation. That is
  a form of weak subordination. It makes
  the sentence awkward and blurs the
Awkward: Laertes goes from his usual confidence to a new,
  helpless sadness in one line, “I have a speech of fire, that fain
  would blaze / But that this folly drowns it,” which shows how
  much his only sister‟s death has upset him.
Smooth: Laertes goes from his usual confidence to a new,
  helpless, sadness in one line: “I have a speech of fire, that fain
  would blaze / But that this folly drowns it.” The swift change in
  his mood shows how much his only sister‟s death has upset

Notice that the revision is not only easier to understand, but
  more specific. It allows the writer to comment on the
  question in both the sentence that introduces it and the
  sentence that follows it.
7. After the quotation, comment further why it is
   important or how it is worded.
       Secretly married to her family‟s
       enemy, Juliet rejects her mother‟s
       order to marry that gallant young
       count: “When I do, I swear / It shall
       be Romeo, whom you know I hate, I
       rather than Paris” (3.5.122-24)
S.O.S.: Speaker-Occasion-
   Remember what you learned as a freshman!
   Frame a quote with a lead-in: speaker and
    occasion (or context, meaning, what is
    happening when the quote occurs in the
    literature) + significance or commentary
    (meaning, your analysis).
   As a general rule, you should follow a direct
    quote with at least two complete sentences of
    commentary and analysis.
Sample of Using Supporting Text in a
Literary Analysis Paper:
   Sita continues to pledge her loyalty when she
    tells Rama, “I am devoted and faithful to my
    husband. I have always shared your joy and
    sorrow, and now I am most desolate. . . Your
    joy has always been mine to share, and your
    sorrow”(1156). Here, Sita‟s sense of devotion
    and loyalty in her decision to join Rama in exile
    reflect the Hindu philosophy of dharma, or
    sacred duty and righteousness. Her words
    further reflect her sense of solidarity as she is
    compelled to join her husband even in the face
    of adversity.
   In the previous example, the quotation has a
    lead in explaining the speaker and a hint of
   The quotation is woven into the context of the
    lead-in phrase, is punctuated correctly, and is
    cited correctly according to MLA parenthetical
   The quotation is followed by two sentences of
    meaningful analysis and commentary.
   Reference the information in this
    presentation any time you need help
    incorporating quotations as supporting
    text in your writing!
   You‟re welcome!
   Hamilton, Sharon. Solving More
    Common Writing Problems. Portland,
    ME. 1997.

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