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Explain Quote Essay

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Using Quotations Effectively

Robert Harris
Version Date: November 27, 2012
Original Date: February 13, 2001
(Reflects MLA Handbook [1999/2003] style)

Quoting effectively is important because the right quotation presented properly can add spice, interest, thought, effectivenes, support, and respect to your writing. Quoting ineffectively makes your writing look like an amateur attempt padded by random comments from strangers. Here, then, is some advice that will help you incorporate quotations into your writing in a way that will give both the sizzle you want.

1. Introduce your quotations. A quotation should never suddenly appear out of nowhere. Some kind of information about the quotation is needed. Name the author, give his or her credentials, name the source, give a summary. You won't do all of these each time, but you should usually name the author. For example:

2. Discuss your quotations. Do not quote someone and then leave the words hanging as if they were self explanatory. What does the quotation mean and how does it help establish the point you are making? What is your interpretation or opinion of it? Quotations are like examples: discuss them to show how they fit in with your thesis and with the ideas you are presenting. Remember: quotations support or illustrate your own points. They are not substitutes for your ideas and they do not stand by themselves.

It is often useful to apply some interpretive phrasing after a quotation, to show the reader that the you are explaining the quotation and that it supports your argument:

  • Here we see that
  • This statement shows
  • Clearly, then,
  • We can conclude from this that
  • This tells us that
  • From this we can understand that
  • Such a contrarian view must nevertheless be taken seriously because
  • If we are to understand from this comment that
3. Use some variety in introducing quotations.
A. Pick the quotation verb which seems in each case to fit your purpose most exactly. For example:

Note that the particular verb you choose helps orient your reader toward your opinion of the statement. "Jones says" is neutral; "Jones informs us" is positive, "Jones alleges" is somewhat negative. Other verbs to choose from include:

  • says
  • writes
  • observes
  • notes
  • remarks
  • adds
  • declares
  • informs us
  • alleges
  • claims
  • states
  • comments
  • thinks
  • affirms
  • asserts
  • explains
  • argues
B. Sometimes you might want to use a colon introduction. For example:

 Or Kumquat

  • is more enlightening:
  • prefers a different argument:
  • discerns this point:
  • distinguishes between the two:
  • reminds us of his youth:
  • believes we should talk less:
  • cannot admit that the plan failed:
  • feels that no further action is needed:
C. An introductory phrase may sometimes be best. For example:


4. Sometimes you might want to begin your quotation in the middle of the writer's sentence. For example, Joe's Text:

Your quotation:

 Or, Boz's Text:

Your quotation:

(Note: for embedded phrases like these, do not use ellipsis dots on either side. It is obvious from the fragmentary nature of the quoted phrase that the quoter has omitted words before and after the phrase.)

5. Sometimes leave out some words to condense the quotation. Mid-sentence ellipses use three spaced dots.  Example text:

Your quotation:

Ellipses at the end of a sentence use an end-of-sentence period and then three spaced dots. Example text:

6. Parenthetical material goes inside the punctuation mark. Example:

Compare punctuation without and with parenthetical material:

(Note that the period has moved from next to the last letter of the sentence to behind the right parenthesis mark.)

7. Standard MLA Citation Style is actually rather simple for most entries: The in-text citation is the author's last name followed by a page number:

See my article for more detail on MLA style.

At the end of your paper, you will have a Works Cited page, listing the work in standard MLA order. Basically, the order is:

Book
Lastname, Firstname. The Book Title. City: Publisher, Date.

Article
Last, First. "Article Title." Journal Name Volume (Year): Page-Page.

Web site
Last, First. "Article Title." Site Name. Article date. Organization Name. Date of access <URL in angle brackets>.

Example
Harris, Robert. "Using Quotations Effectively." VirtualSalt.com. 27 Nov. 2012. 4 July 2013 <http://www.virtualsalt.com/quotehlp.htm>.

Note: For Web articles, omit information not available, such as author, article date, site name, etc. Never make up page numbers for a Web site. Always include article title, date of access, and URL at the very minimum. See the link at the bottom of this page, "How to cite this page," for more information.



Using Quotations and References: An Example

Here is an example of the use of quotations and references (citations) to support points:

 At the beginning of many of the Holmes stories, Doyle takes care to capture the reader's interest by proclaiming that the story just getting under way is an especially noteworthy or remarkable one. At the beginning of "The Five Orange Pips," for example, Watson notes that this adventure is one of the "many which present strange and interesting features," because it is "so remarkable in its details and so startling in its results" (Doyle 100). There were many adventures in the year 1887, Watson continues, but "none of them present such singular features as the strange train of circumstances which I have now taken up my pen to describe" (101).

As if this weren't enough, John Openshaw, the man who brings the case to Holmes, describes his problem as "no ordinary one" (102), and adds that he doubts "whether . . .  you have ever listened to a more mysterious and inexplicable chain of events" than the ones he is about to relate (103).

 Indeed, this declaration of singularity is a common gambit Doyle uses at the beginning of many of the stories. "The Adventure of the Engineer's Thumb" was "so strange in its inception and so dramatic in its details" (191) that it deserves to be recorded, Watson says. "The Adventure of the Silver Blaze" is described as "this extraordinary case" (Castle edition 172), while "The Adventure of the Speckled Band" "presented more singular features" than any of the "seventy odd cases" that Watson has studied in the last eight years (Doyle 165).

 As Doyle grew more experienced, he evidently grew a bit more sophisticated, for the later stories often strive to capture interest by tantalizing the reader. For example, "The Adventure of the Cardboard Box" opens with the assertion that we are about to read "a strange, though peculiarly terrible chain of events" (Castle edition 188). In the first paragraph of "The Adventure of the 'Gloria Scott' it is Holmes himself declaring the adventure to be an "extraordinary case" (223), commenting tantalizingly about a paper in his hand that "this is the message which struck Justice of the Peace Trevor dead with horror when he read it" (223). --and so on.

 Note that the technique used here is to cite frequently, though briefly, to build the quotations into the writer's own sentences, and to use whatever arrangement of the material best supports the writer's argument.

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About the author:
Robert Harris is a writer and educator with more than 25 years of teaching experience at the college and university level. RHarris at virtualsalt.com

Using literary quotations

Use the guidelines below to learn how to use literary quotations.


 

For further information, check out Quoting, Paraphrasing, and Acknowledging Sources, or you may wish to see when the Writing Center is next offering its workshop entitled Intro to Literary Analysis.

Incorporating Quotations

  • As you choose quotations for a literary analysis, remember the purpose of quoting.

  • Your paper develops an argument about what the author of the text is doing--how the text "works."

  • You use quotations to support this argument; that is, you select, present, and discuss material from the text specifically to "prove" your point--to make your case--in much the same way a lawyer brings evidence before a jury.

  • Quoting for any other purpose is counterproductive.

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Punctuating and Indenting Quotations

For the most part, you must reproduce the spelling, capitalization, and internal punctuation of the original exactly.

The following alterations are acceptable:

Changing the closing punctuation

You may alter the closing punctuation of a quotation in order to incorporate it into a sentence of your own:

"Books are not life," Lawrence emphasized.

Commas and periods go inside the closing quotation marks; the other punctuation marks go outside.

Lawrence insisted that books "are not life"; however, he wrote exultantly about the power of the novel.

Why does Lawrence need to point out that "Books are not life"?

Using the slash when quoting poetry

When quoting lines of poetry up to three lines long (which are not indented, see Indenting quotations), separate one line of poetry from another with a slash mark (see examples in Incorporating Quotations into Sentences).

Using Ellipsis Points for Omitted Material

If for the sake of brevity you wish to omit material from a quoted passage, use ellipsis points (three spaced periods) to indicate the omission.

(See this sample paragraph. The writer quoted only those portions of the original sentences that related to the point of the analysis.)

Using Square Brackets when Altering Material

When quoting, you may alter grammatical forms such as the tense of a verb or the person of a pronoun so that the quotation conforms grammatically to your own prose; indicate these alterations by placing square brackets around the changed form.

In the following quotation "her" replaces the "your" of the original so that the quote fits the point of view of the paper (third person):

When he hears Cordelia's answer, Lear seems surprised, but not dumbfounded. He advises her to "mend [her] speech a little." He had expected her to praise him the most; but compared to her sisters', her remarks seem almost insulting (1.1.95).

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Indenting Quotations

Prose or verse quotations less than four lines long are not indented. For quotations of this length, use the patterns described above.

Indent "longer" quotations in a block about ten spaces in from the left margin; when a quotation is indented, quotation marks are not used.

The MLA Handbook (1995) recommends that indented quotations be double-spaced, but many instructors prefer them single-spaced. The meaning of "longer" varies slightly from one style system to another, but a general rule is to indent quotations that are more than two (or three) lines of verse or three (or four) lines of prose.

Indent dialogue between characters in a play. Place the speaker's name before the speech quoted:

CAESAR: Et tu, Brute! Then, fall, Caesar!

CINNA: Liberty! Freedom! Tyranny is dead! (3.1.77-78)

For more information see Quoting, Paraphrasing, and Acknowledging Sources - How to Quote a Source.

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Emphasizing Your Ideas

What to include in literary analysis

Take a look at this sample paragraph. It includes 3 basic kinds of materials:

  1. statements expressing the student's own ideas about the relationship Woolf is creating;

  2. data or evidence from the text in summarized, paraphrased, and quoted form; and

  3. discussion of how the data support the writer's interpretation.

The quotations are used in accordance with the writer's purpose, i.e. to show how the development of Mrs. Ramsey's feelings indicates something about her personality.

Should I quote?

Quoting is only one of several ways to present textual material as evidence.

You can also refer to textual data, summarize, and paraphrase. You will often want merely to refer or point to passages (as in the third sentence in the sample paragraph) that contribute to your argument.

In other cases you will want to paraphrase, i.e. "translate" the original into your own words, again instead of quoting. Summarize or paraphrase when it is not so much the language of the text that justifies your position, but the substance or content.

Quote selectively

Similarly, after you have decided that you do want to use material in quoted form, quote only the portions of the text specifically relevant to your point.

Think of the text in terms of units--words, phrases, sentences, and groups of sentences (paragraphs, stanzas)--and use only the units you need.

If it is particular words or phrases that "prove" your point, you do not need to quote the sentences they appear in; rather, incorporate the words and phrases into sentences expressing your own ideas.

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Maintaining Clarity and Readability

Introduce your quotations

Introduce a quotation either by indicating what it is intended to show or by naming its source, or both.

For non-narrative poetry, it's customary to attribute quotations to "the speaker"; for a story with a narrator, to "the narrator."

For plays, novels, and other works with characters, identify characters as you quote them.

Do not use two quotations in a row, without intervening material of your own.

For further information see Quoting, Paraphrasing, and Acknowledging Sources - How to Quote a Source.

Pay attention to verb tense

Tense is a tricky issue. It's customary in literary analysis to use the present tense; it is at the present time that you (and your reader) are looking at the text.

But events in a narrative or drama take place in a time sequence. You will often need to use a past tense to refer to events that took place before the moment you are presently discussing:

When he hears Cordelia's answer, Lear seems surprised, but not dumbfounded. He advises her to "mend [her] speech a little." He had expected her to praise him the most; but compared to her sisters', her remarks seem almost insulting (1.1.95).

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Documenting Quotations

Follow your course instructor's guidelines for documenting sources. If your instructor hasn't told you which system to use to document sources, ask.

Keep in mind that when you are writing a paper about the same text and quoting from the same edition that everyone else in the class is, instructors will often allow you to use informal documentation. In this case just include the page number in parentheses after the quotation or reference to the text. To be sure, though, you should ask your course instructor.

The documentation style used in this pages is that presented in the 1995 MLA Handbook, but other style systems are commonly used. The Writing Center has information about the rules of documentation in general and about a number of the most common systems, such as APA, APSA, CBE, Chicago/Turabian, MLA, and Numbered References.

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