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Write Clearly: Using Quotations in Your Essay

1. Introduce the quotation with your own words and integrate it grammatically into the sentence

No:
In this study, children were taught effective ways to deal with confrontations through role playing. "They demonstrated a significant increase in generating relevant solutions to interpersonal problems at both post-testing and follow-up testing."

Yes:
In this study, children who were taught effective ways to deal with confrontations through role playing "demonstrated a significant increase in generating relevant solutions to interpersonal problems at both post-testing and follow-up testing."

2. Reproduce the exact wording, punctuation, capitalization and spelling out of the original, including errors

Supplementary information should be enclosed:

  • In square brackets if within the quotation
  • In parentheses if after the quotation

Insert the word [sic] in square brackets after an error in the original.
Example:
He wrote, "I enjoy writting [sic], but find it difficult."

Enclose in square brackets comments of your own added to clarify information in the original.
Example:
He felt that "it [the essay] should be analytical rather than descriptive."

If you want to underline or italicize for emphasis, write my emphasis or emphasis added in parentheses immediately following the closing quotation mark and before the end punctuation.
Example:
Hamlet says, "To be or not to be" (my emphasis).

3. Use the proper punctuation to introduce quotations

Use commas after an explanatory tag such as he said, she explained, they wrote, etc.
Example:
In his epilogue, Roberts stated, "I can't allow this abomination to continue."
Or:
"I can't," Roberts stated, "allow this abomination to continue."

Use a colon when the words introducing the quotation form a complete sentence, when you are introducing a verse quotation, or when a longer quotation is set off from the text.
Example:
She concluded with this statement: "I can't allow this abomination to continue."

Use no punctuation when the quoted words form part of the sentence.
Example:
She stated that she could not "allow this abomination to continue."
Or:
She told the readers that "this abomination" could not continue.

4. Use the proper punctuation to end quotations

When integrating quotations into your essays, keep the following punctuation rules in mind:

  • Commas and periods are placed inside the final quotation mark.
    • Example: She wrote, "I can’t stop them."
  • Semicolons and colons are placed outside the final quotation mark.
    • Example: She wrote, “I can’t stop them”; later, however, she did just that.
  • Question marks and exclamation points are placed inside only if the quotation is a question or an exclamation.
    • Example: She wrote, "What can I do to stop them?"
  • Question marks and exclamation points are placed inside if both the quotation and the statement containing the quotation are questions or exclamations
    • Example: Did she write, "What can I do to stop them?"
  • Question marks and exclamation points are placed outside only if the statement is a question or exclamation
    • Example: Did she write, "I can't allow this abomination to continue"?
  • Do not use a period or comma as well as a question mark or exclamation point
    • Examples:
    • Incorrect: "What can I do to stop them?", she wrote.
    • Correct: "What can I do to stop them?" she wrote.

5. Separate longer quotations from the text

In MLA style, if your quotation is longer than four lines (or three lines in a poem), use a block quotation: start a new line, indent the passage one inch from the body of your text, and omit quotation marks. With block quotations, place punctuation before the parenthetical reference. Long quotations are most often introduced by a colon. 

Example:

Booth et al. describe the challenge that writers face in choosing their own topics:

If you are free to research any topic that interests you, that freedom can be frustrating--so many choices, so little time. At some point, you have to settle on a topic, but beyond a topic, you also find a reason beyond your assignment to devote weeks or months pursuing it and writing up what you find. (40) 

6. Show line breaks when quoting lines from a poem.

If you are quoting three or fewer lines from a poem, use a slash (/) with a space on each side to signify the end of each line. (When quoting more than four lines, see 5).

7. Use single quotation marks for a quotation within a quotation

Example:
Booth et al. note, “In all research communities, some problems are already ‘in the air,’ widely debated and deeply researched” (40).

8. Use ellipses to omit something from the original

To omit material within a sentence, use three periods with spaces before and after each (ellipsis marks).

Example: As Booth et al. argue, “A threat to both pure and practical research today . . . is that profits from patents not only the determine the choice of research problems, but also colour their solutions” (67).

To omit material spanning more than one sentence, use four periods (the fourth indicates the period ending a sentence).

Example: Booth et al., caution researchers, “Before you set out to correct a gap, error, or misunderstanding, be sure it is real, not just your own misreading. . . . Countless research papers have aimed to refute a point that no writer ever made” (69).

Passages from Booth et al. are excerpts from the following text:

Booth, Wayne C., Gregory G. Colomb, and Joseph M. Williams. The Craft of Research
    University of Chicago, 2003.

For more details on using quotations, refer to the following: Gibaldi, Joseph. MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. 8th ed. New York: Modern Language Association of America, 2016.

Resources to Help with Writing

Guide: Plagiarism and Academic IntegrityGuide: Cite Your SourcesVideo: Cite Your Sources: When / Why to Cite

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