Trying To Fit In Essay Quotation

What is Quoting?

Taking the exact words from an original source is called quoting. You should quote material when you believe the way the original author expresses an idea is the most effective means of communicating the point you want to make. If you want to borrow an idea from an author, but do not need his or her exact words, you should try paraphrasing instead of quoting.

How Often Should I Quote?

Most of the time, paraphrasing and summarizing your sources is sufficient (but remember that you still have to cite them!). If you think it’s important to quote something, an excellent rule of thumb is that for every line you quote, you should have at least two lines analyzing it.

How Do I Incorporate Quotations in My Paper?

Most of the time, you can just identify a source and quote from it. Sometimes, however, you will need to modify the words or format of the quotation in order to fit in your paper. Whenever you change the original words of your source, you must indicate that you have done so. Otherwise, you would be claiming the original author used words that he or she did not use. But be careful not to change too many words! You could accidentally change the meaning of the quotation, and falsely claim the author said something they did not.

For example, let's say you want to quote from the following passage in an essay called "United Shareholders of America," by Jacob Weisberg:

The citizen-investor serves his fellow citizens badly by his inclination to withdraw from the community. He tends to serve himself badly as well. He does so by focusing his pursuit of happiness on something that very seldom makes people happy in the way they expect it to.

When you quote, you generally want to be as concise as possible. Keep only the material that is strictly relevant to your own ideas. So here you would not want to quote the middle sentence, since it is repeated again in the more informative last sentence. However, just skipping it would not work -- the final sentence would not make sense without it. So, you have to change the wording a little bit. In order to do so, you will need to use some editing symbols. Your quotation might end up looking like this:

In his essay, “United Shareholders of America,” Jacob Weisberg insists that “The citizen-investor serves his fellow citizens badly by his inclination to withdraw from the community. He tends to serve himself badly... by focusing his pursuit of happiness on something that very seldom makes people happy in the way they expect it to.”


“He tends to serve himself focusing his pursuit of happiness on [money].”

The brackets around the word [money] indicate that you have substituted that word for other words the author used. To make a substitution this important, however, you had better be sure that [money] is what the final phrase meant -- if the author intentionally left it ambiguous, you would be significantly altering his meaning. That would make you guilty of fraudulent attribution. In this case, however, the paragraph following the one quoted explains that the author is referring to money, so it is okay.

As a general rule, it is okay to make minor grammatical and stylistic changes to make the quoted material fit in your paper, but it is not okay to significantly alter the structure of the material or its content.

Quoting within Quotes

When you have "embedded quotes," or quotations within quotations, you should switch from the normal quotation marks ("") to single quotation marks ('') to show the difference. For example, if an original passage by John Archer reads:

The Mountain Coyote has been described as a “wily” and “single-minded” predator by zoologist Lma Warner.

your quotation might look like this:

As John Archer explains, “The Mountain Coyote has been described as a 'wily' and 'single-minded' predator by zoologist Lma Warner.”

How Do I Include Long Quotes in My Paper?

The exact formatting requirements for long quotations differ depending on the citation style. In general, however, if you are quoting more than 3 lines of material, you should do the following:

  1. change the font to one noticeably smaller (in a document that is mostly 12 point font, you should use a 10 point font, for example)
  2. double indent the quotation -- that means adjusting the left and right margins so that they are about one inch smaller than the main body of your paper.
  3. if you have this option in your word-processor, "left-justify" the text. That means make it so that each line begins in the same place, creating a straight line on the left side of the quotation, while the right side is jagged.
  4. do NOT use quotation marks for the entire quotation -- the graphic changes you have made already (changing the font, double indenting, etc.) are enough to indicate that the material is quoted. For quotations within that quotation, use normal quotation marks, not single ones.
  5. you might want to skip 1.5 times the line-spacing you are using in the document before you begin the quotation and after it. This is optional and depends on the style preferred by your instructor.

For example, a properly-formatted long quotation in a document might look like this:

Akutagawa complicates the picture of picture of himself as mere “reader on the verge of writing his own text,” by having his narrated persona actually finish authoring the work in wich he appears. In the forty-ninth segment of the text, entitled “A Stuffed Swan,” he writes:
Using all of his remaining strength, he tried to write his autobiography. Yet it was not an easy task for him. This was due to his still lingering sense of pride and skepticism... After finishing “A Fool's Life,” he accidentally discovered a suffered swan in a used goods store. Although it stood with its head raised, even its yellowed wings had been eaten by insects. He thought of his entire life and felt tears and cruel laughter welling up inside. All that remained for him was madness or suicide.

With this gesture Akutagawa ironizes the impossibility of truly writing the self by emphasizing the inevitable split that must occur between writing and written “self,” the Akutagawa still writing “A Fool's Life” cannot possibly be identical with the narrated persona which has finished the work.
    An assigning editor's comments that a story needs some quotes is a complaint about inadequate reporting, not a cry for typographic relief. 
    When we put those little marks around words in a story, we are telling the reader that the words are special, that they deserve special attention. 
    Many of the rules that follow are based on the premise that quotes should be carefully selected to stand on their hind legs and sing. And because they deserve special attention, they deserve careful handling by reporters and editors. Given that premise, these rules prevail in this course, at most publications and for most good writing. 

    1. One man, one quote: Do not use more than one attribution for the same quote. 

    2. Long-winded quotes: When you break a long quote into separate paragraphs, put closing quote marks only on the last paragraph. 


    In “Atomic War or Peace,” Albert Einstein wrote: 
    “The release of atomic energy has not created anew problem. It has merely made more urgent the necessity of solving an existing one. 
    “One could say that it has affected us quantitatively, not qualitatively. As long as there are sovereign nations possessing great power, war is inevitable. 
    “That is not an attempt to say when it will come,but only that it is sure to come. That was true before the atomic bomb was made. What has been changed is the destructiveness of war.”

     3. Pesky parentheses:Avoid* inserting parenthetical words and phrases in quotes. If a quote is not  understandable without parenthetical explanation, it probably should be a paraphrase rather than a direct quote. If a speaker has used a pronoun for a proper name, don't automatically remove the pronoun and insert the proper name in parentheses on the assumption that the reader is stupid. 


    “(Bill) was having a bad day,” the professor said. 

    Give the reader a break. If, in the context of the story, the antecedent of the pronoun is clear, leave it. The insertion of parentheses in quotes should be the exception rather than the rule. 

*By the way, “avoid” is a nice way of my saying “Don't do it — ever!” If you find a need to put something in parentheses, it means that the writer hasn't set up the quote as well as it should. So, either:

A. Set up the quote in the precediing paragraph (by introducing the person or the issue that caused the used of the parenthetical word or words), or

B. Paraphrase the quote that requires the parenthetical insert.

Do one or the other, always!

    4. Say who's saying it —again: When moving from a partial quote to a complete quote from the same speaker, close the partial quote, start a new paragraph and re-attribute the complete quote: 


    He described the huddle as “an American football ritual in which the players show their rear ends to a crowd before a play.”
    “After a successful play,” he said, “another ritual demands that the players pat one another on the rear end to demonstrate their boyish glee.” 

    Also note that because the partial quote in the first paragraph is not a complete sentence, it does not begin with a capital letter. 

    5. Quick “quote, unquote”: Don't overdo partial quotes. Partial quotes, as any quotes, should be special. If you run into too many of them, remove all but the “very special” ones — the ones that give special emphasis or are extremely strong. (See #7 below). 

    6. Always attribute a quote: Never assume that the reader makes the connection between an allusion to a source in one sentence and the quote that follows: 

    Mortis has used the surgical procedure for more than a decade. 
     “I have experienced remarkable success with that simple technique.” 

    We refer to this as an “orphan quote.” Always get the attribution tag into the quoted sentence. 

    Mortis has used the surgical procedure for more than a decade. 
    “I have experienced remarkable success with that simple technique,” he said. 


    7. Deja vu all over again? Watch for stutter or parrot quotes, and be ready to eliminate them. Stutter quotes repeat the words or intent of an adjacent paraphrase: 


    Smith has used the surgical procedure for more than a decade.
    “I have been using that procedure for more than 10 years,” he said. 

    8. Each to its own: In conversation or dialogue, place each speaker's quotes in separate paragraphs. Do not run two or more speakers' quotes into the same paragraph, no matter how short. 

    9. Q: No quotes on some quotes? A: Righto!: Quotation marks are not needed in lengthy question-and-answer formats so long as the questions and answers are clearly marked Q: and A. (See AP Stylebook). 

    10. A “quipu” for quotes?: Unfamiliar or coined words may be placed within quotation marks on first use, after (or before) which the coined word should be defined.(But this technique should be used only on rare occasions.) On subsequent references in the same story, don't use quote marks. 

    11. Quotes in quotes: For quotes within quotes, use single quote marks, both opening and closing, for the internal quote. If both quotes end together, you would end with a single quote mark and double quotes marks. 


    He said, “The surgeon called it ‘just a simple technique.’” 

    12. In (period and comma); out (everything else, unless...): Periods and commas always go inside closing quotes. Other punctuation marks go inside if they apply only to the quoted matter, outside if the punctuation applies to the full sentence. 

    13. “Change quotes?” you ask. “Almost, uh, never,” he said: In this class and at The University Daily Kansan, quotes appear exactly as they are said (with some rare exceptions). The exceptions are simple: the “uhs” and “ers” we all use as pauses to gather our thoughts are deleted (otherwise, our stories would be filled with them. Besides, readers don't really hear them.). Also, there are those “glides” and the such, as with “gonna” for “going to” and “wanna” for “want to.” In those cases, we'd write “going to” or “want to” (unless you're writing in the vernacular, something addressed below).

What about writing in the vernacular — using slang and phrasing to reflect a person's personality, upbringing or geographic influences. For example, when writing about a cowboy, you might want to write “Pahd-nuh” instead of “partner.” That's OK, but be careful. Make sure you still treat the subjects with respect. But, if in doing so, the quotes inadvertantly reflect poorly on the speakers in any way, don't do it.

We've had incidents in the past (and I've observed them in other newspapers) in which the vernacular has been used with athletes, particularly African-American or Latin American athletes, and not with others in the same story. Also, the vernacular tends to show up in stories about lower-income groups (i.e., the homless or people living in the inner city). That, simply, is wrong. And in other cases, we'll fix the little gaffes by the advantaged, but not the disadvantaged (such as the homeless or people in inner-city neighborhoods).. That's wrong, too. We should treat everyone the same, every time, all the time.. Apply rules evenly and fairly.

And what about grammatical errors? Simple. If you've got a good quote but the person makes a grammatical error that you think needs to be fixed, you paraphrase. Period.

Now, at some publications, quotes are changed at times for grammar and usage to avoid errors that may be embarrassing to the source if they appeared in print. We don't do that. We paraphrase.

Speakers also use interjections when they pause that are not really part of what they're saying, and listeners ignore, such as “uh” (which we never include) and, often, “you know” (which we can often omit).

In any case, you, as an editor or a writer, should exercise extreme caution. The best advice, for this class and in the professional world, is to check with a supervising editor or the writer — in class, that's the instructor — before changing anything in a quote (other than an obvious typo and, even then, you should try to check with the writer to determine exactly what was left out or wrong).

Remember: It's always best to check with a supervisor before changing any quote for just about any reason. Get a second opinion -- always!

If you'd like more, take a gander at the letter I wrote to Miriam Pepper of The Kansas City Star in reponse to its policy of changing quotes and her (feeble, in my view) support of it.

    14. Said doesn't always mean quotes: Just because you see the word “said” doesn't necessarily mean the material to which it is attached is a direct quote — even if what's being expressed is an opinion. 


    He said America was the most beautiful country in the world.


    America is the most beautiful country in the world, he said.

Those examples merely paraphrase what the person actually said. This may seem silly, but I can't tell you the number of times I have students change paraphrases into direct quotes simply because the word “said” is in a sentence. If you don't see any quote marks in the sentence, don't put 'em there. If you think in your heart of hearts that it might be a quote, but the writer just forgot to put in the quote marks, don't put 'em there unless you check with the writer or the source.

    15. One last note on quotes (and one of Professor Gibson’s pet peeves, even though it's not listed on the Prof's Pet Peeves page): 

    Always make sure the reader is clear about who's doing the talking in a quote. 


    “…South American economy,” Clinton said. 
    The president also said he was looking forward to the conference in Brazil because of the enormous economic implications for the United States. 
    “The American economy will only benefit from relaxed import-export requirements,” James Williamson, a General Motors representative, said. “We believe we can increase our business in most of South America if the president's trip is a success.” 

    The reader would have every reason to believe that President Clinton was saying “The American economy . . .” until, of course,the reader gets to the name of the General Motors representative.” 
    That's unfair to the reader. It's sloppy writing and editing. Don't do it. Period. Introduce a new speaker before heading into a quote. 


     …for the United States. 
     James Williamson, a General Motors representative, agreed. 
     “The American economy …” 

    It's that easy. 

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