How to quote sources in an essay
What is a quote?
A quote is when you literally copy a passage of someone else’s words, whether it be a short phrase, a sentence or a small paragraph.
Example of a quote:
Where to begin with quotes
You will not set out to find quotes. They will be an incidental part of your findings during the literature review stage of your essay or paper.
The literature review involves analyzing the extant literature to find relevant sources that help with defining concepts, supporting your ideas or providing alternate views.
This analysis and processing of the available literature is a key part of what you will be assessed on, so it is vital that you evaluate each source carefully. During this stage, you may identify certain sources or passages of text that will add value to your own essay.
It is these sources or passages of text that will end up being summarized, paraphrased and quoted in your essay. Therefore, you should keep a careful record of your sources and take note of particular passages that may be useful quotes later on.
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Three reasons for quoting
1. You can use a quote to define a concept
2. You can use a quote because paraphrasing would diminish the quality of the original text or the idea
3. You can use a quote to provide evidence or support an argument
How to quote
There are three main ways to introduce quotes in your essay or paper. Here are some examples:
Introduce the author, followed by the quote:
Incorporate the quote into your paragraph:
Introduce the study or article itself:
How long should a quote be?
The use of quotes does not show original thinking, so you should always try to keep a quote as short as possible, preferably no longer than a few sentences.
In academic writing, it is preferable to use quotes sparingly, so there is no specific standard regarding minimum or maximum word count. However, a quote of more than 40 words is considered long. In this case, it is most often better to summarize the information rather than quote.
Shortening a quote
You can also shorten a quote; for example, you might replace a redundant or irrelevant part of a quote with ellipses (…). If shortening a quote, be careful not to take it out of context. Do not use a shortened quote from a source that otherwise contradicts or does not agree with the context as evidence.
Example of a shortened quote
As you can see, the shortened quote is more to the point, but remains in context.
This example is also useful to see how to add text to a quote. This is only to be done when the original quote clearly misses a word that should be there.
In this case, [years-ago] has been added as the speaker forgot to include this, but the reader needs the additional words to clearly understand the sentence.
How to block quote
If you have found a longer quote that simply must be used in its entirety and not paraphrased or shortened, you will need to format it as a block of indented text, i.e. a block quote. This is most common in research about literature or poetry, where detailed analysis of the original text may be required and your readers will need to see examples.
When to block quote according to citation style
|When to block quote||Quotes longer than 40 words||Quotes of prose longer than four lines|
Quotes of poetry/verse longer than three lines
|Quotes longer than 30 words||Quotes longer than 100 words|
Example of a block quote (APA style):
Tolkien favours the use of long sentences and detailed descriptions that envelop the reader in the fictional world of his creation. Indeed, in some cases, Tolkien’s sentences are so long they form a paragraph of their own:
To the end of his days Bilbo could never remember how he found himself outside, without a hat, a walking-stick or any money, or anything that he usually took when he went out; leaving his second breakfast half-finished and quite unwashed-up, pushing his keys into Gandalf’s hands, and running as fast as his furry feet could carry him down the lane, past the great Mill, across The Water, and then on for a mile or more. (Tolkien, 1937, p. 16)
How to cite a quote
The way you cite a source depends on the citation style for your essay or paper. It is important to be aware of the specific rules for quoting according to the citation style you are required to use.
Examples of in-text citations:
Sometimes the differences between how to cite are very subtle, while other citation styles vary significantly. To learn more, read this article about in-text citations.
How many quotes should you use
As using a large number of quotes does not increase the readability of your essay, it is wise to limit the frequency and occurrence. Plus, if you use too many quotes, you may appear lazy, as though you do not understand the source properly or like you did not read the entire text.
Most academic sources recommend that quotes comprise roughly 10% of your essay; we advise you to aim for 5% or less. Therefore, you should limit the use of quotes to only when necessary. Your own voice should always be dominant in your paper.
The subject of study also has an impact on how many quotes you use. For example, more quotes will be required in humanities research compared with scientific study, which typically focuses more on summarizing or experiments and results.
Be sure to check with your university to see whether there is a specific percentage of quotes that must be adhered to in your essay or paper.
How to paraphrase
Quoting is just one way you can use the ideas of other researchers in your essay. A tool you will use with even more frequency is paraphrasing, which involves stating someone else’s idea in your own words.
When you encounter a long piece of text or even an entire study that you wish to use to support your research, you can also summarize the information.