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Quoting Within an Essay

How Much/When

Quote sparingly, paraphrasing most of your information so that your voice as a writer come through. Below are two of the most common reasons for quoting:

  • The original wording of the quotation is so powerful that to change it would diminish its impact.
  • The quotation provides necessary authority and support for your idea.

How to Weave Quotations into Your Writing

Quotations cannot be simply dropped into an essay. Instead, they should be logically and smoothly integrated. Pay attention to the sentence or phrase that precedes the quotation and sets up expectations in readers' minds, as well as to ways you follow up the quotation, explaining its significance and linking it with your own subsequent sentences.

The following examples, taken from an essay analyzing if and why racism exists on college campuses, demonstrate weak integration. Ways to revise them follow. Examples follow MLA format.

Example A: Weak Integration:

  • Minorities may feel pressured to alter a way of life to which they have become accustomed. "Moreover, the behavior, lifestyle, and values of minority students are likely to be substantially different from those of whites" (Jones and Farrell 212).

(Note: in the example above, readers expect the quotation to be about altering the minorities' way of life. It is not. What relationship do you see between the quotation and the sentence that precedes it? The quotation tells why minorities may feel pressured, and the relationship would be clearer if the passage were revised as follows:)

  • Minorities may feel pressured to alter a way of life to which they have become accustomed because their "behavior, lifestyle, and values . . . are likely to be substantially different from those of whites" (Jones and Farrell 212).

Example B: Weak integration:

  • The administration at the University of Missouri believes that with a constant recruitment of minority students over the next couple of years, the ratio of minorities to white students will become much more equal. "All students grow by meeting people unlike themselves" (Brown A1). The administration at the University of Missouri hopes that this is true for its university.

(Note: In the example above, the reader expects the quotation to be about the ratio of minorities to white students becoming more equal. Instead, it talks about the advantages of a more equal ratio. Here's a more effective revision:)

  • The administration at the University of Missouri believes that with a constant recruitment of minority students over the next couple of years, the ratio of minorities to white students will become more equal, thereby allowing "students [to] grow by meeting people unlike themselves" (Brown A1).

Alternative Ways to Introduce Quotations

  1. Precede the quotation with a speech tag including the author's name and title, separated from the quotation with a comma. If the quotation is a grammatically complete sentence, it normally should start with a capital letter even if it is not the start of your sentence, as in the following example:
    • Jones and Farrell, academic writers at a large Southern university, note, "The behavior, lifestyle, and values of minority students are likely to be substantially different from those of whites" (212).
  2. Precede the quotation as in #1 but use "that." If you use "that," then no punctuation should separate the speech tag from the quotation, and the first quoted word isn't capitalized. Here's an example:
    • Jones and Farrell, academic advisors at a large Southern university, have stated that "the behavior, lifestyle, and values of minority students are likely to be substantially different from those of whites" (212).
  3. Precede the quotation with a complete sentence that indicates the quotation's message. Use a colon after the sentence to connect it to the quotation. (If you use just a comma, you have an error known as as "comma splice.") If the first word of the quotation starts a grammatically complete sentence, capitalize that first word. Here's an example:
    • Jones and Farrell, academic advisors at a large Southern university, describe why minority students may not feel comfortable in a predominately white university as follows: "The behavior, lifestyle, and values of minority students are likely to be substantially different from those of whites" (212).
  4. Integrate the quotation within your own sentence structure. This is frequently the smoothest way to introduce a quotation, and the way that demonstrates most clearly that you understand what you have read and are using it to support your own points, rather than letting what you have read make points for you. In this case, put no punctuation between your words and the quoted words, and do not capitalize the first word of the quotation. Here's an example:
    • Minority students may not feel comfortable in a predominately white university because their "behavior, lifestyle, and values . . . are likely to be substantially different from those of whites" (Jones and Farrell 212).

Handling Changes within a Quotation

You should not alter a quotation without signaling to the reader that you are making a change. Below are the two most common ways to do so:

  1. To signal that you have eliminated some of the author's words in the middle or at the end of a quotation, use an ellipsis (three spaced dots). In the example below, the writer has omitted from the original quotation the words "of minority students":
    • Minority students may not feel comfortable in a predominately white university because their "behavior, lifestyle, and values . . . are likely to be substantially different from those of whites" (Jones and Farrell 212).
    • You can also use an ellipsis if your quotation ends before the end of the original sentence, as in the following example: Minority students may not feel comfortable in a predominately white university because "the behavior, lifestyle, and values of minority students are likely to be substantially different . . ." (Jones and Farrell 212).
  2. To signal that you have altered or added to the original quotation, use brackets. Reasons you may alter or add to quotations include changes in verb tense or clarification of a pronoun or term.
    • For example, suppose you wanted to quote the sentence "All students grow by meeting people unlike themselves," but in your paper the sentence for some reason would need to be placed in the past.. You could write:
      • Brown notes, "All students [have] grow[n] by meeting people unlike themselves" (1A).
    • Or suppose the sentence from Jones and Farrell had read, "Their behavior, lifestyle, and values are likely to be substantially different from those of whites," and you wanted to use this sentence in your paper--but in your paper, it wouldn't be clear who "their" referred to. You could write:
      • "[Minority students'] behavior, lifestyle, and values are likely to be substantially different from those of whites" (Jones and Farrell 212).

Block Quoting

Block quotations are defined in MLA style as more than four typewritten lines or in APA style as more than forty words. Use them sparingly! They take up valuable space and often slow the reader down. In addition, frequent block quotations can give the impression that you don't have much to say for yourself but are instead letting your sources do all the speaking for you. But if you do use block quotations, remember the following guidelines:

  1. Introduce the block quotation with a complete sentence which indicates the main point of the quotation and which is followed by a colon.
  2. Continue to double space, don't use quotation marks, and indent along the left margin only (five spaces for MLA and ten spaces for APA). Follow the quotation with a period before the parentheses, not after as with most citations.
  3. Return to the left margin and add material highlighting the significance of the block quotation rather than letting it dangle by immediately starting a new paragraph.

Sample paragraph with block quotation, MLA format:

 The plight of minorities adjusting to a predominately white university has historically 
been difficult. The pressure put on minorities can be seen in this 1920 letter from a father 


to his son:


     Son, remember you're a Negro. You'll have to do twice as much better than your classmates.  


     Before you act, think how what you do may reflect on other Negroes. Those white people will 


     be judging the race by you. Don't let the race down, Son. . . . A Negro's just as good as 



     anybody else, but he's always got to prove it.    (Redding 112)



The pressure on minorities to succeed, for themselves and their race, has been enormous.