A quotation can provide corroborating evidence for an assertion that a writer intends to make within his or her research paper. The quote can also add a dash of wit, insight, or unique perspective to the paper-writer’s examination of a particular event or debate. However, in order to maximize the impact of a quote, the writer must take care to cite the source material accurately as well as effectively.
In his book Writing: Ten Core Concepts, Robert P. Yagelski offers four guidelines for quoting from sources. We’ve paraphrased them below, and stated them in the form of questions that students can ask themselves as they determine when, and how, to include quotes from their sources in their own research papers.
1. Is a direct quote essential to the point I’m trying to make, or can I summarize or paraphrase this information?
In general, it’s appropriate to include a paraphrase of your source material, accompanied by a citation that follows the proper format (e.g., APA, MLA, or Turabian) as required by your instructor. However, there are certainly times when an author’s exact words add support and authority to your overall statement. In other cases, a book or article may contain a particularly salient (and well-stated) piece of information that supports your point. In such cases, do quote the material, but only include the portion that is most essential.
2. Have I captured the quote precisely as it appears in the original document, and have I accurately represented the writer’s intent?
In order to avoid any hint of plagiarism, it’s important to accurately represent another person’s work and the ideas that he or she intended to convey. Therefore, as you select your quotes, be especially careful to check that each one appears in your paper exactly as it does in the original book or document. As you strive for accuracy, you must also avoid omitting a word or phrase that plays a pivotal role in the overall meaning of the sentence. Leaving out key elements of an author’s point can potentially confuse or mislead your readers—and that action could also be seen as manipulative or deceptive.
3. Have I presented the quote in as concise a manner as possible?
Though you won’t want to remove so many words as to change the meaning of the quote, you also don’t want to excerpt so much of the source material that you overwhelm your own writing with words or phrases that add nothing to your point (and which may, in fact, detract from it). Re-read the portion of the work you wish to excerpt, and carefully choose the portion that best suits your paper. Consider summarizing or paraphrasing any other information that may be relevant.
You should also pay attention to how you frame the quote. Adding phrases such as “In the book…” or “In the article titled…” can increase wordiness without adding any extra benefit of clarity or insight. Consider following these four sentence patterns commonly used by scholarly writers, as noted by Yagelski:
» In [title of source], [name of author] states (argues, asserts, claims, suggests), “[insert quotation].”
» According to [name of author], “[insert quotation].”
» [Name of author] states (argues, asserts, claims, suggests), “[insert quotation].”
» “[Beginning of quotation],” according to [name of author], “[rest of quotation].” (Yagelski, 746-747)
4. Have I integrated the quotation into the paper, or does it come off like I’ve simply patched it into the paragraph?
As a writer, you should strive to make your prose as smooth and cohesive as possible. If you simply insert a quote into a paragraph without paying close attention to how it’s presented, you may detract from your efforts to craft a paper that reflects your personal voice, perspective, and ideas. Therefore, as you consider how and where to include quotes, ensure that each one is integrated seamlessly within the overall flow of each paragraph. Remember: this is your paper that represents your work and your ideas… don’t miss out on the chance to make your own voice heard! (Yagelski, 743-749)
Reference: Yagelski, Robert P. 2015. Writing: Ten Core Concepts. Stamford, CT: Cengage Learning.
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