In most essays, you will write about more than your personal opinion. And when you do, you will need to be able to bring in facts, evidence, and other forms of support in order to back up your ideas. One of the most important ways that you will help to defend your ideas is with expert opinion and key information from outside sources. Sometimes you will do this with a summary or a paraphrase, but often enough you will use a quotation, so it’s a good idea to know the right way to use quotes in your essay. In this article, we’ll take a look at how to add quotes effectively to an essay to get the most out of your sources and best support your paper.
You know you need to quote. Now, let’s talk about how to do it right.
Why Use Quotes in Essays
Before we discuss how to use quotes, it’s a good idea to understand why we would use quotations in an essay. There are a number of reasons to use quotations. First, you use quotations to bring in the exact language of a source when their exact words are important for understanding what was said. Second, you use quotations to present information that someone else has described very well and cannot be said better. The third reason to use quotation marks is to break up large blocks of your own text with other people’s style to create interest and keep the audience’s attention.
There is one important reason not to use quotes, and that is simply to take up space. Many students who are not comfortable with writing will try to pad their papers with quotations in order to make the paper longer or to avoid writing in their own words. This is not an effective strategy for two reasons. First, if you make up a paper out of too many words from other people, even when quoted and cited correctly, it can create originality problems with your paper that fall under plagiarism. Your paper must have original ideas. Second, most academic writing styles have recommended limits on the amount of quoted material you can place in a paper. For example, APA recommends no more than 10-15% of a paper be quoted material. In general, 20% is the upper limit for quotations.
Using Quotations in Writing Correctly
When you use a quotation in an essay, there are some key rules to keep in mind. The first and most important of the rules is that you must always cite a quotation to give credit to the original author. Citations will differ between writing styles, but in general, you will need to identify the author and the page where the quote can be found. APA style uses the year of publication as well, and some styles differ slightly in how the citation is positioned in the sentence. Chicago style provides a full bibliographic notation in a footnote for each quotation. But the general purpose of a citation is evident: You need to tell the reader where the quotes came from.
The second rule about quotations is that you have to distinguish between your words and the words of your sources. Most of the time, that means placing the exact words of your sources in quotation marks. This is not always the case, however. Sometimes, for longer quotations, there is a different way to identify quotes. While different writing styles specify different lengths of quotation to get the treatment, in general, quotes that are more than 40 words or four lines use “block quote” format. A block quote sets the borrowed words apart from the surrounding paragraph and indents each line, typically one-half inch or one tab. A block quote does not use quotation marks since the indenting does the work of identifying which words are borrowed from someone else.
How to Use Quotations in an Essay
When you use quotations, however, it is not enough simply to drop them into the paper as undigested chunks of text. Whenever you use a quotation, it needs to be integrated into the surrounding paragraph. Typically, you will do so by introducing the quotation by setting it up and connecting it to the previous discussion. Then you will present the quotation with a citation. Following the quotation, you will discuss and explain the quotation and its connection to your own analysis. Don’t leave a quotation dangling naked at the beginning or end of a paragraph.
There is one big exception to this general rule. It’s often an effective strategy to open an essay with a quotation. When you use a dramatic or compelling quotation to open your essay, you won’t need to introduce it before presenting it. Instead, the discussion will follow the quote so the quotation itself will be placed first and have maximum impact.
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