Guilford College Writing Manual

This is the official Guilford College Writing Manual. A collaboration between the English Department and the Hege Library.

Revising to Make More Effective Use of Quotations

REVISING TO MAKE MORE EFFECTIVE USE OF QUOTATIONS

 

            Weaving outside sources into your text is a craft in itself.  It requires the adroit balancing of two sets of material and a keen eye and ear to guaran­tee that the combination is seamless and coherent.

            First, of course, you must decide when to quote.

Four common reasons for quoting from sources:

            1. Conciseness.  You find that you cannot paraphrase an idea without using many more words than the source.

            Noam Chomsky has been called a reductionist—someone who believes that “all complex phenomena are ultimately explained and understood by analyzing them into increasingly simpler and supposedly more elementary components” (Pronko 497).

2. Accuracy. You find that you cannot paraphrase an idea without distorting the author’s meaning.

3. Memorable Language. You believe that the words chosen by your source are so vivid or powerful that they lend a meaning that a paraphrase cannot capture.

4. Authority. You want to support a conclusion you have reached in your research by quoting an expert’s words on the subject.

            Winston Churchill characterized Soviet Russia as “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.”

General suggestions for integrating quotations:

  • try to work quotations naturally into your own sentences rather than setting them up as separate sentences (this is one of the differences between the first and third versions of the sample revision below).
  • introduce the quotation . . . don’t just stick it in.
  • in most cases, tie the quotation in explicitly after including it. Explain how it supports the point you’re using it to support. Needless to say, be sure that the quotation illustrates what it is supposed to.
  • carve out of the quotation only the most essential part(s).  Use ellipses (three equally spaced periods) to indicate where you have omitted material.
    use brackets to set off interpolations (i.e., additions) in quoted material.

            USE BRACKETS TO CLARIFY:  This same critic indicates that “we must avoid the temptation to read it        [The Scarlet Letter] heretically” (118).

USE BRACKETS TO ESTABLISH CORRECT GRAMMAR LINKING THE QUOTATION’S WORDS WITH YOURS: “John F. Kennedy . . . [was] an immortal figure of courage and dignity in the hearts of most Americans,” notes one historian (Jones 82).

USE BRACKETS TO NOTE YOUR ADDITION OF UNDERLINING OR ITALICS: He says, for instance, that the “extended family is now rare in contemporary society and with its demise the new parent has lost the wisdom [my emphasis] and daily support of older, more experienced family members” (Zigler 42).

USE BRACKETS WITH “SIC” TO INDICATE ERRORS IN THE ORIGINAL:

Lovell says, “John F. Kennedy, assassinated in November of 1964 [sic], became overnight an immortal figure of courage and dignity in the hears of most Americans” (62).

                                          --from Lester, Writing Research Papers

  • be sure to punctuate the quotation correctly.  There are specific, valid reasons for the conventions regarding which punctuation marks go within the quotation marks and which do not.  Consult a writing handbook when necessary.
  • be sure to provide the sources of all quotations.  Use the appropri­ate style of documentation (e.g., MLA, APA, CBE).

 

Sample revision

 

            In the three versions of the following paragraph, observe how the use of quotations becomes progressively more effective.

            Original paragraph

            The approach to teaching foreign languages might well be changed, given what psychologists have learned about language. The traditional method, which delays study of foreign language until high school or college, ignores the process by which children learn to speak their native tongue. By the age of four, a child "has acquired an entire linguistic system that enables it to create sentences for the rest of its life" (Stringer 19).  "A child's language gradually unfolds in a sequence of stages of development during the first few years of life" (Dee 68). "Around the age of puberty, an irreversible change takes place, and practically every child loses the ability to learn a second language without an accent" (Dee 69). As a result, teachers of foreign languages might do well to encourage parents to expose their children to languages very early in their education—in kindergarten and elementary school rather than in high school or college.

Comment:

            Note how the quotations are merely clumped together.  There is no attempt to discuss them.

           First revision

            The approach to teaching foreign languages might well be changed, given what psychologists have learned about language. The traditional method, which delays study of foreign languages until high school or college, ignores the process by which children learn to speak their native tongue.The baby, surrounded by language, first learns that things have names; gradually, it realizes that its thoughts can be translated into words. It begins to communicate, and by the age of four "has acquired an entire linguis­tic system that enables it to create sentences for the rest of its life" (Stringer 19). Psychologists find that "a child's language gradually unfolds in a sequence of stages of development during the first few years of life" (Dee 68). This ability does not last: "Around the age of puberty, an irrever­sible change takes place, and practically every child loses the ability to learn a second language without an accent" (Dee 69). As a result, teachers of foreign languages might do well to encourage parents to expose their children to languages very early in their education‑‑in kindergarten and elementary school‑‑rather than in high school or college.

Comment:

            This version uses the same quotations; notice that in each case the writer introduces the quotations by briefly describing their significance (underlined passages).  There is little effort to tie the quotations together, however.  The writer has no transitions between the quotations to explain how they relate to one another and the topic sentence.

            Second revision

            The approach to teaching a foreign language might well be changed, given what psychologists have learned about language. The traditional method, which delays study of foreign languages until high school or college, ignores the process by which the children learn to speak their native tongue. The structure of the human brain is equipped at birth to acquire language. The baby, surrounded by language, first learns that things have names; gradually, it realizes that its thought can be translated into words. It begins to communicate, and by the age of four "has acquired an entire linguistic system that enables it to create sentences for the rest of its life" (Stringer 19). Psychologists who have studied this process find that "a child's language gradually unfolds in a sequence of stages of development during the first few years of life" (Dee 68). This ability, however, does not last.  Although the very young child can generate the system of languages simply from hearing them spoken, "around the age of puberty, an irreversible change takes place, and practically every child loses the ability to learn a second language without an accent" (Dee 69). After puberty, individuals need serious study to learn the same language they could have generated for themselves simply by hearing it spoken as children. As a result, teachers of foreign languages might do well to encourage parents to expose their children to languages very early in their education‑‑in kindergarten or elementary school‑‑rather than in high school or college.

Comment:

            This version uses the same quotations.  Here, however, the writer has added transitional material that demonstrates the relationship of each quotation to the topic, as well as the relationships between the quotations themselves (underlined passages).  We see that this final example makes the best use of the quotations and is, as a result, also the best--developed and organized paragraph of the three.