How to Use Quotes
and sound good doing it…
Whenever you are writing a paper, you should be thinking about adding quotes to help prove your point. Good quotes are sometimes the only difference between a rant and a completed argument. Here are some tips on how to use quotes well:
THE TECHNICAL SIDE
Every time you use a quote, you MUST indicate where the quote came from; otherwise it might seem like you just “put quotes around your own words to suggest that you found them elsewhere” (Thomas 45). And do you see what else I just did? I cited this fake quote correctly. The two things that you must include in a citation (I am referring to book citations here, not interviews, websites, etc) are the author’s name and the page number. The easiest way to do this is to include these two things in a set of parentheses at the end of the line. Notice in the above example, the citation is AFTER the quote, BEFORE the period, and I did not write the first name, “pg. 45,” “p. 45,” “found on page 45” or any such nonsense. Only the last name and number. NO COMMA!
Since the important parts are the name and page number, if you mention either of those things in the sentence leading up to the quote, you do not need to repeat them in the citation. For example:
Mr. Thomas says, “you people are crazy” (56).
On page 56, “you people are crazy” stands out (Thomas).
On the very first page, Thomas says, “You people are crazy.”
Periods and commas go inside the quotation marks; other punctuation — semicolons, question marks, dashes, and exclamation points — goes outside unless it directly pertains to the material within the quotes.
“I don’t want to go skiing this weekend,” said Justin. “Is anyone up for some snowboarding instead?” he asked the group.
In the next example, the question mark goes outside the quotation marks because it is not part of the material being quoted:
Did he say, “We should all go to the movies”?
Also note that the sentence ends with only one mark of punctuation: the question mark. In general, don’t use double punctuation marks, but go with the stronger punctuation. (Question marks and exclamation points are stronger than commas and periods.)
ALSO: Use a comma to lead into a quote, or get out of a quote if you are still mid-sentence.
“I would like to go to the beach this weekend,” she told him as they left the apartment.
“That is,” Wesley said, “that neither you nor I is her boy…”
OTHER TECHNICAL PIECES OF INFORMATION
If you are ever writing a paper and the same name keeps popping up at the beginning of consecutive quotes, you can write “Ibid” (short for the Latin ibidem, or “in the same place”) to indicate that the quote is from the same source as the one you cited last.
If your quote falls in the middle of your sentence, put the citation at the end, regardless.
Thomas’s first words, “you are crazy,” begin his book (45).
Any time you have a book written by more than one author (more common for textbooks than fiction), you only need to provide the FIRST author’s last name.
When you provide a quote FROM A PLAY, you should provide the ACT, SCENE and LINE numbers in place of the page number. For example, Hamlet defines the purpose of theater as “to hold, as ‘twere, the mirror up to nature” (3.2.21-23).
“Sic” in a quote means that the mistake within the quote is the author’s and not the essayist’s. The manager screamed “We was [sic] robbed!” when his boxer lost the fight.
THE STYLISTIC SIDE
Now that you know how to use quotes correctly, let’s go over using them well. Here are a few rules of thumb…
#1) Let your quote do the difficult work
The most important thing to remember is the reason for inserting a quote in the first place is to allow the text to show something better than you can yourself. A common mistake is to lead in to the quote by saying exactly what is stated in the quote. For example… Tom says he is going to let George work on his car the next day, saying “I’ll let you have that car, I’ll send it over tomorrow afternoon” (Fitzgerald 131). This is pointless. Instead, try… Tom concedes, telling George, “I’ll let you have that car…”
#2) Do not feel obligated to keep a quote intact
If the most important parts of a quote are a bit far apart from one another, feel free to chop out the needless phrases (or sentences) with an ellipsis. Tom concedes, telling George, “I’ll let you have that car … tomorrow afternoon.” Remember, the purpose of a good quote is NOT to lengthen your paper. If you include a quote that is more than a sentence long, you are then obligated to explain why you included ALL OF IT.
#3) “Floating Quotes”
Avoid having your quotes just float in the paragraph all alone, unsupported by any of your own words – in other words, quotes that have no lead-in or explanation surrounding it. For example: George wants to work on Tom’s car, and Tom allows him to. “I’ll let you have that car” (131). This statement pleases George immensely. The quote here is cut off from his friends, the sentences that explain it. Try to couch your quotes in either one of these two sentence types:
(A) THE RUNNING START – give a subject and a verb BEFORE you start your quote
Harold is frightened by the animal and is “jumping out of his clothes” when it growls (25).
(B) THE LEAD-IN QUOTE – Just the opposite, begin by providing the quote, then explain its significance
Harold “[jumps] out of his clothes” when the animal growls at him, frightening him terribly
(notice, I am allowed to change the verb tense, so long as I put my changes in brackets)
#4 Leave out the unnecessary
Avoid needless lead-ins like “the following quote,” “in the quote,” “it is stated,” or any of their cousins. It is the character or the author that is doing the speaking, not the quote itself. So, instead of saying Fitzgerald shows Tom’s pleasant side in the quote, “I’ll let you have that car” … try instead …Fitzgerald shows Tom’s pleasant side when Tom says, “I’ll let you have that car tomorrow”.
#5 Do not include a pointless quote
You have chosen a weak quote if you can say the same thing just as easily in your own words. Holden was wearing a “red hat”. On the other hand, the best quotes are ones that are not only useful in pointing something out, but also has language that can be analyzed as well. Look at the verb choice, the vocabulary, the style, and try to break it down as much as possible. And your explanation should always be at least twice as long as the quote.
Go here for more advice on citing quotations.