It can be tricky figuring out how to incorporate someone else’s ideas or words into your own writing in a way that
1) doesn’t jam up the “flow”
2) gives credit where credit is due
3) satisfies an instructor or reader’s requirement to “properly cite outside sources”
I’ve found that the manner and the number of quotations in a given piece of writing varies, not only from student to student but also from discipline to discipline. Recently I was asked by a journal to change the citation style of an essay I’d written from MLA to APA. I discovered during the process that I wasn’t only changing my parenthetical citations—from (Maliki 41) to (Maliki, 2002, p. 41)—but that I was also being pushed by the citation style to revise. As I wrote and rewrote and reconsidered what I was doing in my essay, my writing started to take on a different tonal quality. More and more, I would cite studies that people had done (as “findings”) instead of quoting the interesting pieces of language that I discovered while reading those studies. Changing the manner in which I was giving credit to others’ work also changed the way I viewed my own writing.
All to say, depending on your intended audience, the purpose of the writing and the discipline from which your writing emerges, among other concerns, you’ll probably encounter differing attitudes among professors and other readers about the best way to introduce and interact with quotations. Nevertheless, here are a few tips that may help you get started, or that may help you inject a little variety into the way you introduce quotations:
Tip 1: Be on the lookout, annotate
Be on the lookout for language that seems remarkable, unique to the writer’s point of view, controversial in some way, a good encapsulation of the piece at hand’s argument or purpose.
You probably aren’t worried about introducing a quotation unless you’ve found one that needs introducing. Read with a pencil in hand. As you read, perhaps consider where you’ve had the strongest reactions, the deepest concern, the strangest thrills. If the margins of whatever you’re reading are full of notes, exclamation points, question marks, stars, etc., then your decision about which phrases or passages need to be quoted in your writing just became a little easier.
Tip 2: Consider "pulling" the quotations
Consider “pulling” the quotations you think might end up in your essay and putting them somewhere new.
Some writers might find this to be an annoying or useless step. But, for me, it’s useful to take language that I think might be important and to forcefully remove it from its “home.” Typing the quotations into a new Word document helps me to make quick work of my parenthetical citations (i.e. as I copy the quotations into the text of a document, I also insert the information that will go into the parenthetical citations). More important, copying the quotations takes those words—momentarily—out of their original context. This helps me when I’m considering what context my readers might need to better understand the quotation.
Tip 3: Signal phrases
Think about the context that readers might need to understand the quotation. How might that context be included in a signal phrase?
A signal phrase signals to your reader that she’s about to hear something that’s coming from a source of information other than your brain. Signal phrases are a good option especially when you’re mentioning a source for the first time. The information that goes into the signal phrase will vary depending on: 1) the disciplinary requirements of your writing, 2) the kind of source you’re quoting from, and 3) how much you plan on discussing the source, its attributes, etc. Some things to consider including in a signal phrase: necessary information such as author name, title of source the quote comes from; explanatory information such as a brief, brief summary of the work, its publication date; or perhaps how it was disseminated, whether it’s a written source or a quoted interview or speech, an email sent to a company’s employees or a note scrawled in secrecy. Below are a few possibilities for a quote I’ve pulled from James W. Loewen’s Lies My Teacher Told Me. What kinds of genre considerations have gone into the different approaches?
In James Loewen’s invective against American history textbooks, Lies My Teacher Told Me, the sociologist argues that an omniscient tone “insulates students from the raw materials of history” (16).
James Loewen, a professor of sociology at the University of Vermont, believes that “the omniscient narrator’s voice of history textbooks insulates students from the raw materials of history” (16).
Loewen’s popular book from the mid-1990s, Lies My Teacher Told Me, explores the concept that point of view matters, that in some instances a point of view choice can be pedagogically harmful to readers: “The omniscient narrator’s voice of history textbooks insulates students from the raw materials of history” (16).
Tip 4: When stuck, consider crafting an introductory statement
When stuck (as to how to introduce a quotation), consider crafting an introductory statement using the active voice.
Fitzgerald, in contrast, emphasizes temporality in the first character description in “The Ice Palace”: “Sally Carroll Happer rested her nineteen-year-old chin on a fifty-two-year-old window sill and watched Clark Darrow’s ancient Ford turn the corner” (1).
A choice in point of view, some have argued, carries immense pedagogical implications: “The omniscient narrator’s voice of history textbooks insulates students from the raw materials of history” (Loewen 16).
Ehrenreich describes the “sumptuous circumstances” from which her book about poverty in America emerged: eating “salmon and field greens … pitching [her editor] some ideas having to do with pop culture” (1).
Tip 5: Morsels of language, interspersing
Consider working a morsel, or a small piece, of particularly interesting or revelatory language into a paraphrase. Some teachers may refer to this approach as “interspersing.” (If you’re confused what might make for interesting or revelatory language, perhaps one test would be whether or not you’re willing or able to write sentences following your quotation which discuss those particular words, why they’re important, etc.)
By the second stanza, one of the roads is revealed to readers as “grassy” and without “wear” (Frost line 8).
Hamlet and Iago are among the characters who, according to Bloom, perform an “invasion of our reality” (4).
Tip 6: Quoting longer passages
If there’s a passage that you think deserves to be quoted at length, go for it. Making sure you consistently use a signal phrase to introduce long quotations, this is a good habit to acquire.
Know, though, that many readers (including professor-readers) may have strong opinions about when and how you should quote something longer than a couple lines. Not only do most formatting styles (MLA, APA, etc.) have different guidelines for long quotations, but many readers, once they see that “block quote” on the page, will be reading for whether or not the long quotation deserves to be in your writing product and if that deservingness is provided by you in some way. Usually I tell my students, “My expectations raise whenever I see a long quotation; I expect that you’ll talk extensively about the language or the content or the context of what you’ve quoted, and that you’ve provided it at length because your thorough, extensive analysis only makes sense if readers have at their disposal a longer passage.”
Bloom, Harold. Genius: A Mosaic of One Hundred Exemplary Creative Minds. New York: Warner, 2002.
Ehrenreich, Barbara. Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By In America. New York: Holt, 2001.
Fitzgerald, F. Scott. “The Ice Palace.” Babylon Revisted and Other Stories. New York: Scribner, 1960.
Frost, Robert. “The Road Not Taken.” Robert Frost’s Poems. New York: Washington Square, 1971. 223.
Loewen, James W. Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong. New York: Simon, 1995.
written by Richard Sonnenmoser
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