Academic essays usually require the use of quotations from reliable sources to back up your own arguments. Incorporating quotations can be a new and daunting style of writing for many students in college and university. How do you add the right number of quotes, without accidentally plagiarizing or interrupting the flow of your essay? It can be a tricky act to balance your own thoughts and ideas with those of other academics in the field you are writing about.
5 Tips for Incorporating Quotations
These general tips are helpful to keep in mind whenever you introduce a quotation into your work. (We won’t get into the nitty-gritty of punctuation and formatting here, as there are many excellent style guides out there already covering this topic! (See our blog post 5 Can’t-Live-Without Online Essay Writing Resources).
1. Give the reader some context before inserting a quotation! A quotation plunked into your work without explanation is disconcerting to your readers. It also doesn’t show that you fully understand the connection between the quote and your own ideas. Never leave a quotation alone in a sentence; work it into a sentence with lead-in phrases. We love this list of ‘signal verbs’ provided by the Vanier CÉGEP/College in Quebec (the whole tip sheet is extremely helpful and we recommend checking it out!):
Source: Integrating Quotes. Vanier CÉGEP/College Tutoring and Academic Success Centre.
2. Quotations should elaborate upon your own words, not make up the bulk of your essay. Think of quotations as proof to your reader that you know what you are writing about, and as support for your hypothesis or argument. When you sprinkle in quotes from experts on the topic you’re writing about, it gives your thesis credibility. It also shows other academics (like your professor!) that you are aware of the relevant academic research and literature relating to your topic. Academia is all about building upon what others have written about, and adding to the discussion. Quotations are your way of including others who have come before you in your discussion on a topic, and giving credit for their findings.
3. With the above point in mind, don’t be afraid of including quotations in your paper that represent opposing viewpoints! Hear us out: rather than weakening your argument, these can be used to show you are aware of the whole spectrum of opinions on your topic, but still believe your points are stronger. Including opposing arguments shows you have thoroughly researched your topic from all angles in order to come to your current stance. Be creative with quotations involving contrasting views; you can rebuff them and explain to the reader why they may be misguided or incomplete. In the end, your goal is to show that you are approaching your topic with fairness and balance, rather than solely including others’ work that aligns with your views.
4. Avoid over-using quotations in your essay. This can give the impression you have nothing of value to say yourself (not the impression you want to give your professor or T.A.!). If only part of a sentence or paragraph is relevant to the point you are making, then try to quote only this part and leave out the rest. This may mean adding important details in square brackets, or making sure you give context for the partially-quoted segment! (There are a multitude of online style guides on how to quote parts of a sentence or paragraph properly. Again, see our blog post 5 Can’t-Live-Without Online Essay Writing Resources.) An important note is not to abbreviate quotations to the point of misconstruing the authour’s original meaning! This is dishonest and misrepresents others’ opinions or work. See this useful link, with more details on when to quote, paraphrase, or summarize a source: Grounds for Argument. When to Quote, Paraphrase, or Summarize a Source.
5. It goes without saying, but we’ll say it again: Reference, reference, reference!! Never paraphrase or directly quote another person’s work without providing credit to that person. The source may be an organization, rather than an individual, but it’s still important to acknowledge them as your source. We know you hear this day in and day out at college or university, but plagiarism is a serious offense, so it’s best to be over-cautious in this regard. Make sure you follow your professor’s requested style when formatting quotations, as well, as there are distinct differences between various styles such as APA, MLA, Chicago, etc.
Now go out into the world, and quote effectively and responsibly!
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