Quoting: When and how to use quotations


Quoting is an important technique used to include information from outside sources in academic writing. When using quotations, it is important that you also cite the original reference that you have taken the quotation from, as your citations provide your reader with a map of the research that you have done. Making effective use of quotations in your writing requires you to carefully assess the value of including someone else’s own words in the advancement of your own argument.

When should you quote?

According to Jerry Plotnick (2002, Director of the University College Writing Workshop) using a quotation is appropriate in the following situations:

1.       The language of the passage is particularly elegant, powerful, or memorable.

2.       You wish to confirm the credibility of your argument by enlisting the support of an authority on your topic.

3.       The passage is worthy of further analysis. 

4.       You wish to argue with someone else’s position in considerable detail.[1]

Research that involves participants (for example, interviews and participant-observation research) also often makes extensive use of quotations in order to foreground the unique voices and perspectives of the participants.

Quoting basics

When you quote, you include the words and ideas of others in your text exactly as they have expressed them. You signal this inclusion by placing quotation marks (“ ”) around the source author’s words and providing an in-text citation after the quotation. Direct quotations differ from other in-text citations because they require that you include the page number on which the words can be found in the source text.  For example:

According to scholars of rhetoric Graff and Birkenstein (2014), when you are inserting a quotation in your writing “you need to insert it into what we like to call a ‘quotation sandwich,’ with the statement introducing it serving as the top slice of bread and the explanation following it serving as the bottom slice” (p. 46).[2] This "sandwich" method ensures that your reader can clearly see the source you are referencing and also understands how this quotation supports your overall argument.

When you are quoting from a source that does not have page numbers (such as a website), you will consult your style guide to determine how best to reference your source. For example, both MLA and APA suggest listing the paragraph number or relevant heading.

Framing your quotations

Graff and Birkenstein’s reference to a “quotation sandwich” above is a helpful visual; when you are revising your papers remember to review your quotations and ensure that they all have an introduction before them and an explanation following them, written by you!

You quote materials from a source text to support the arguments and ideas you are presenting in your own essay. Therefore, you must introduce the quotation and explain to your reader why you have included it and how it relates to, and helps to build, your argument. This is known as framing. It directs your reader’s attention to the specific elements of the quotation that are most directly relevant to your own arguments and ideas.

Here is an example of a quotation that is successfully “framed” within a text:

Citing the islands of Fiji as a case in point, Bordo notes that “until television was introduced in 1995, the islands had no reported cases of eating disorders. In 1998, three years after programs from the United States and Britain began broadcasting there, 62 percent of the girls surveyed reported dieting” (149-50). Bordo’s point is that the Western cult of dieting is spreading even to remote places across the globe.[3]

Remember that quoting is only one way of bringing someone else’s work into your own discussion. See the SLC handouts “Techniques for paraphrasing” and “Summarizing” for ideas on other ways to incorporate sources into your writing.

[3] Example taken from Graff, G. & Birkenstein, C. (2014). They say/I say: The moves that matter in academic writing. New York and London: W.W. Norton & Company.