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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

This example does not integrate the quotation into the sentence:

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

This example integrates the quotation effectively into the sentence:

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

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] (s i c)in square brackets after an error in the original.

Example: He wrote, "(quotation mark)I enjoy writting (left bracket)[sic](right bracket), but I find it difficult."(quotation mark)

Enclose in square brackets comments of your own added to clarify information in the original.

Example: He felt that "(quotation mark)it (left bracket)[the essay] (right bracket)should be analytical rather than descriptive."(quotation mark)

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"(quotation mark)To be (start italics)or (end italics)not to be"(quotation mark) (left paren)(my emphasis)(right paren).(period)

3. Use the proper punctuation to introduce quotations

Use commas after an explanatory tag such as he said, she explained, they wrote, etc.

Example: Robert stated,(comma) "(quotation mark)I can't allow this abomination to continue."(quotation mark)
Or: "(quotation mark)I can't,(comma)"(quotation mark) Robert stated,(comma) "(quotation mark)allow this abomination to continue."(quotation mark)

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:(colon) "(quotation mark)I can't allow this abomination to continue."(quotation mark)

Use no punctuation when the quoted words form part of the sentence.

Example: She stated that she could not "(quotation mark)allow this abomination to continue."(quotation mark)
Or: She told the readers that "(quotation mark)this abomination"(quotation mark) 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(comma)"(quotation mark)I can’t stop them.(period)"(quotation mark)

Semicolons and colons are placed outside the final quotation mark.

Example: She wrote"(quotation mark)I can’t stop them"(quotation mark)(semicolon)however,(comma)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(comma) "(quotation mark)What can I do to stop them?(question mark)"(quotation mark)

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(comma) "(quotation mark)What can I do to stop them?(question mark)"(quotation mark)

Question marks and exclamation points are placed outside only if the statement is a question or exclamation

Example: Did she write(comma) "(quotation mark)I can't allow this abomination to continue"(quotation mark)?(question mark)

Do not use a period or comma as well as a question mark or exclamation point

Examples:
Incorrect: "(quotation mark)What can I do to stop them?(question mark)"(quotation mark),(comma) she wrote.
Correct: "(quotation mark)What can I do to stop them?(question mark)"(quotation mark) 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:(colon)

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(comma) "(quotation mark)In all research communities, some problems are already '(single quotation mark)in the air,(comma)'(single quotation mark) widely debated,(comma) and deeply researched"(quotation mark) (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(comma)"(quotation mark)A threat to both pure and practical research today ... (ellipsis)is that profits from patents not only determine the choice of research problems, but also colour their solutions(quotation mark)(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,(comma)"(quotation mark)Before you set out to correct a gap, error, or misunderstanding, be sure it is real, not just your own misreading(period) ... (ellipsis) Countless research papers have aimed to refute a point that no writer ever made"(quotation mark)(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.

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