How to quote sources

Quoting means copying a passage of someone else’s words and crediting the source. In academic writing, you can use quotes to define concepts, provide evidence or analyze language.

To correctly quote a source, you must ensure:

  • The quoted text is surrounded by quotation marks.
  • The original author is correctly cited.
  • The text is identical to the original (or you have clearly marked any changes you made).

The format of a quote depends on how long it is and which citation style you are using.

Example of a quote

“As natural selection acts solely by accumulating slight, successive, favourable variations, it can produce no great or sudden modification; it can act only by very short and slow steps” (Darwin, 1859, p. 510).

Introducing a quote

Each time you include a quotation in your paper, you must introduce it. This shows the reader why you’re including the quote and how it fits into your argument.

There are three main ways to introduce quotes.

Introductory sentence

You can introduce the quote with a full sentence followed by a colon.

In Denmark, a recent poll shows that support for the EU has grown since the Brexit vote: “A membership referendum held today would be backed by 55 percent of Danish voters” (Levring, 2018).

Introductory signal phrase

You can use a signal phrase that mentions the author or source, but doesn’t form a full sentence. In this case, you follow the phrase with a comma instead of a colon.

According to Levring (2018), “A membership referendum held today would be backed by 55 percent of Danish voters.”

The introductory phrase can also use dialogue verbs such as argues, claims, or explains.

As Levring (2018) states, “A membership referendum held today would be backed by 55 percent of Danish voters.”

Integrated into your own sentence

If you want to quote a phrase that doesn’t form a full sentence, you can embed it into a sentence of your own.

A recent poll suggests that EU membership “would be backed by 55 percent of Danish voters” in a referendum (Levring, 2018).

Shortening a quote

If some parts of a passage are redundant or irrelevant, you can shorten the quote by removing words, phrases or sentences and replacing them with ellipses (…).

When you shorten a quote, be careful that removing the words doesn’t change the meaning of the original quote.

Original quote

“Feminists have long been sceptical, with good reason, of essentialist claims about women, which have traditionally served to legitimise or disguise our subjugation. The idea that women are inherently more peace-loving or empathetic isn’t substantially different from familiar sexist stereotypes” (Finlayson, 2019).

Shortened quote

“Feminists have long been sceptical, with good reason, of essentialist claims about women… The idea that women are inherently more peace-loving or empathetic isn’t substantially different from familiar sexist stereotypes” (Finlayson, 2019).

The ellipses indicate that some text has been removed, but the shortened quote still accurately represents the author’s point.

Receive feedback on language, structure and layout

Professional editors proofread and edit your paper by focusing on:

  • Academic style
  • Vague sentences
  • Grammar
  • Style consistency

See an example

Adding information to a quote

If a quote is missing information that is essential to understand it, you can add it in square brackets. For example, if the quote uses a pronoun referring to a previous sentence, you can replace the pronoun with the person’s name in brackets.

Original quote

As Anderson (2019) puts it, “for two years she enjoyed quite widespread esteem for a show of calm and competence. But her inheritance was less rosy than it seemed.”

Quote with information added

As Anderson (2019) puts it, “for two years [Dilma] enjoyed quite widespread esteem for a show of calm and competence. But her inheritance was less rosy than it seemed.”

Citing a quote

All direct quotes (and paraphrased ideas) must include a citation of the original source. If you do not cite the quotes used, you risk committing plagiarism. Be aware that the consequences of plagiarism can be serious.

The way you cite a source depends on the citation style. Many citation styles use in-text citations in parentheses directly after the quote, while others require you to use footnotes.

The differences can be subtle, so make sure you know the rules of the style you are using, and be consistent.

Examples of in-text citations

APA in-text citation

A famous soccer player always said, “playing soccer with each other on a beautiful Sunday afternoon is the greatest thing there is” (Sneijder, 2013, pp. 2–3).

MLA in-text citation

A famous soccer player always said, “playing soccer with each other on a beautiful Sunday afternoon is the greatest thing there is” (Sneijder 2–3).

Chicago in-text citation (author-date style)

A famous soccer player always said, “playing soccer with each other on a beautiful Sunday afternoon is the greatest thing there is” (Sneijder 2013, 2–3).

Chicago footnote citation (notes and bibliography style)

A famous soccer player always said, “playing soccer with each other on a beautiful Sunday afternoon is the greatest thing there is.”1

As well as the in-text citation, you will have to include full publication details of the source. You list all the sources you cited at the end of your paper. The requirements for formatting this list vary by citation style.

MLA Works CitedAPA Reference PageChicago Bibliography

Block quotes

If you quote more than a few lines from a source, you must format it as a block quote. Instead of using quotation marks, you set the quote on a new line and indent it so that it forms a separate block of text.

Block quoting is most common in literary research, where detailed analysis of the original text requires you to quote at length.

When to block quote
Citation styleAPA block quoteMLA block quoteChicago block quote
When to block quoteQuotes longer than 40 wordsQuotes of prose longer than four lines

Quotes of poetry/verse longer than three lines

Quotes longer than 100 words
Example of a block quote (APA style)

Tolkien favours long sentences and detailed descriptions. 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 quote a quote

If you want to quote a passage that contains another quote, the quotation marks inside the passage become single instead of double.

“There were reasons to ‘start growing grim about the mouth,’ as Melville put it” (Witt, 2019).

Note that, in UK English, the convention is the other way round: single quotation marks are standard, while double quotation marks are used for quotes inside quotes.

Indirectly citing a quote

If you want to use material that you found quoted in another source (without including any of that source’s own text), you can quote it as normal and add an indirect citation.

The convention for indirect citing depends on the citation style. In MLA in-text citations, you use “qtd. in,” short for “quoted in,” to cite indirectly.

“The politics that’s needed to prevent the climate catastrophe – it doesn’t exist today. We need to change the system, as if we were in crisis, as if there were a war going on” (Thunberg, qtd. in Gessen).

If possible, though, it’s usually best to seek out the original source of the quote and cite it directly.

When to quote

In academic papers and essays, you should avoid relying too heavily on quotes. When you want to refer to information or ideas from a source, it’s often best to paraphrase, which means putting the passage in your own words. This shows that you have fully understood the text and ensures your own voice is dominant.

However, there are some situations in which quotes are more appropriate.

When focusing on language

If you want to comment on how the author uses language (for example, in papers about literature, linguistics, communication and media), it is necessary to quote so that the reader can see the exact passage you are referring to.

Example

You are writing a paper about the novels of a modernist author. You will have to quote frequently from the novels in order to analyze their language and style.

When giving evidence

To convince the reader of your argument, interpretation or position on a topic, it’s often helpful to include quotes that support your point. Quotes from primary sources (for example, interview transcripts or historical documents) are especially credible as evidence.

Example

You are working on a paper about the causes of a historical event, and you have studied documents and letters written at the time. You can quote from these sources as evidence in support of your argument.

When presenting an author’s position or definition

When you’re referring to secondary sources such as scholarly books and journal articles, the occasional concise quote can be used to present other authors’ theories, arguments or ideas. You can quote to show that your point is supported by an authority on the topic, or to critique a position that you disagree with.

Try to put others’ ideas in your own words when possible. But if a passage does a great job at expressing, explaining, or defining something, and it would be very difficult to paraphrase without changing the meaning or losing the impact, it could be worth quoting directly.

Example

Your interpretation of survey data is supported by a well-known theory on your topic. You find a sentence that perfectly sums up the theory, so you quote the author before elaborating on your understanding of the theory.

How many quotes should you use?

The amount of quotes you should include depends on your subject of study and topic of research.

In scientific subjects, the information itself is more important than how it was expressed, so quotes should generally be kept to a minimum. In the arts and humanities, however, well-chosen quotes are often essential to a good paper.

In social sciences, the amount of quotes you use depends partly on whether you’re doing qualitative or quantitative research. If you’re dealing mainly with numbers and statistics, you shouldn’t include many quotes, but if you’re dealing mainly with words, you will need to quote from the data you collected.

As a general guideline, we recommend that quotes take up no more than 5–10% of your paper. If in doubt, check with your instructor or supervisor how much quoting is appropriate in your field.

Is this article helpful?
Shona McCombes

Shona has a bachelor's and two master's degrees, so she's an expert at writing a great thesis. She has also worked as an editor and teacher, working with students at all different levels to improve their academic writing.

Comment or ask a question.