Quotes Writing Essays

Using literary quotations

Use the guidelines below to learn how to use literary quotations.


 

For further information, check out Quoting, Paraphrasing, and Acknowledging Sources, or you may wish to see when the Writing Center is next offering its workshop entitled Intro to Literary Analysis.

Incorporating Quotations

  • As you choose quotations for a literary analysis, remember the purpose of quoting.

  • Your paper develops an argument about what the author of the text is doing--how the text "works."

  • You use quotations to support this argument; that is, you select, present, and discuss material from the text specifically to "prove" your point--to make your case--in much the same way a lawyer brings evidence before a jury.

  • Quoting for any other purpose is counterproductive.

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Punctuating and Indenting Quotations

For the most part, you must reproduce the spelling, capitalization, and internal punctuation of the original exactly.

The following alterations are acceptable:

Changing the closing punctuation

You may alter the closing punctuation of a quotation in order to incorporate it into a sentence of your own:

"Books are not life," Lawrence emphasized.

Commas and periods go inside the closing quotation marks; the other punctuation marks go outside.

Lawrence insisted that books "are not life"; however, he wrote exultantly about the power of the novel.

Why does Lawrence need to point out that "Books are not life"?

Using the slash when quoting poetry

When quoting lines of poetry up to three lines long (which are not indented, see Indenting quotations), separate one line of poetry from another with a slash mark (see examples in Incorporating Quotations into Sentences).

Using Ellipsis Points for Omitted Material

If for the sake of brevity you wish to omit material from a quoted passage, use ellipsis points (three spaced periods) to indicate the omission.

(See this sample paragraph. The writer quoted only those portions of the original sentences that related to the point of the analysis.)

Using Square Brackets when Altering Material

When quoting, you may alter grammatical forms such as the tense of a verb or the person of a pronoun so that the quotation conforms grammatically to your own prose; indicate these alterations by placing square brackets around the changed form.

In the following quotation "her" replaces the "your" of the original so that the quote fits the point of view of the paper (third person):

When he hears Cordelia's answer, Lear seems surprised, but not dumbfounded. He advises her to "mend [her] speech a little." He had expected her to praise him the most; but compared to her sisters', her remarks seem almost insulting (1.1.95).

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Indenting Quotations

Prose or verse quotations less than four lines long are not indented. For quotations of this length, use the patterns described above.

Indent "longer" quotations in a block about ten spaces in from the left margin; when a quotation is indented, quotation marks are not used.

The MLA Handbook (1995) recommends that indented quotations be double-spaced, but many instructors prefer them single-spaced. The meaning of "longer" varies slightly from one style system to another, but a general rule is to indent quotations that are more than two (or three) lines of verse or three (or four) lines of prose.

Indent dialogue between characters in a play. Place the speaker's name before the speech quoted:

CAESAR: Et tu, Brute! Then, fall, Caesar!

CINNA: Liberty! Freedom! Tyranny is dead! (3.1.77-78)

For more information see Quoting, Paraphrasing, and Acknowledging Sources - How to Quote a Source.

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Emphasizing Your Ideas

What to include in literary analysis

Take a look at this sample paragraph. It includes 3 basic kinds of materials:

  1. statements expressing the student's own ideas about the relationship Woolf is creating;

  2. data or evidence from the text in summarized, paraphrased, and quoted form; and

  3. discussion of how the data support the writer's interpretation.

The quotations are used in accordance with the writer's purpose, i.e. to show how the development of Mrs. Ramsey's feelings indicates something about her personality.

Should I quote?

Quoting is only one of several ways to present textual material as evidence.

You can also refer to textual data, summarize, and paraphrase. You will often want merely to refer or point to passages (as in the third sentence in the sample paragraph) that contribute to your argument.

In other cases you will want to paraphrase, i.e. "translate" the original into your own words, again instead of quoting. Summarize or paraphrase when it is not so much the language of the text that justifies your position, but the substance or content.

Quote selectively

Similarly, after you have decided that you do want to use material in quoted form, quote only the portions of the text specifically relevant to your point.

Think of the text in terms of units--words, phrases, sentences, and groups of sentences (paragraphs, stanzas)--and use only the units you need.

If it is particular words or phrases that "prove" your point, you do not need to quote the sentences they appear in; rather, incorporate the words and phrases into sentences expressing your own ideas.

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Maintaining Clarity and Readability

Introduce your quotations

Introduce a quotation either by indicating what it is intended to show or by naming its source, or both.

For non-narrative poetry, it's customary to attribute quotations to "the speaker"; for a story with a narrator, to "the narrator."

For plays, novels, and other works with characters, identify characters as you quote them.

Do not use two quotations in a row, without intervening material of your own.

For further information see Quoting, Paraphrasing, and Acknowledging Sources - How to Quote a Source.

Pay attention to verb tense

Tense is a tricky issue. It's customary in literary analysis to use the present tense; it is at the present time that you (and your reader) are looking at the text.

But events in a narrative or drama take place in a time sequence. You will often need to use a past tense to refer to events that took place before the moment you are presently discussing:

When he hears Cordelia's answer, Lear seems surprised, but not dumbfounded. He advises her to "mend [her] speech a little." He had expected her to praise him the most; but compared to her sisters', her remarks seem almost insulting (1.1.95).

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Documenting Quotations

Follow your course instructor's guidelines for documenting sources. If your instructor hasn't told you which system to use to document sources, ask.

Keep in mind that when you are writing a paper about the same text and quoting from the same edition that everyone else in the class is, instructors will often allow you to use informal documentation. In this case just include the page number in parentheses after the quotation or reference to the text. To be sure, though, you should ask your course instructor.

The documentation style used in this pages is that presented in the 1995 MLA Handbook, but other style systems are commonly used. The Writing Center has information about the rules of documentation in general and about a number of the most common systems, such as APA, APSA, CBE, Chicago/Turabian, MLA, and Numbered References.

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How to Use Quotes Effectively

 

Most, if not all, of your college professors will require you to use research material as a vital component of your writing.  However, this process is not as simple as cutting and pasting sentences (or even worse, paragraphs) from the original texts into your essay.  You need to do more than just parrot information; simple cutting and pasting resorts in an incoherent flow of information in which the diction becomes nearly schizophrenic—literally, a confusion of voices.  Technically, an isolated quotation is called a “free-standing quote.”  It is essential, therefore, for you to integrate quotations into your writing so that the essay flows as smoothly as possible. 

 

Let’s say you have to write an essay on creativity for your Introduction to Psychology course, and you have decided to make creative writing your focus.  While you were researching, you came across a certain quote that you feel would work effectively in a paragraph in which you analyze the relationship between creativity and perceptiveness. 

 

Before you try to place the quote in your essay, you need to understand two things: what the quote literally means and how the quote will fit with the context of your paragraph and essay.  The quote will not help your essay if you are unsure of its specific meaning, so be sure to understand any complex vocabulary or ideas.  Second, the placement of quotes should not be haphazard; you should have a definite, specific purpose for placing each quote.  Without such a purpose, your essay will seem random, a quality  successful writing does not possess.

 

Here is an original quote and three ways to incorporate it into your text.

 

Being a good poet makes you a good psychologist, it is suggested, one capable of “profound insight,” but being a good psychologist doesn’t seem to make people good poets. 

 


 

1.  Use a simple introductory phrase.

 

According to Adam Phillips, the former Principal Child Psychotherapist at Charing Cross Hospital in London and the author of many influential books on psychoanalysis, “being a good poet makes you a good psychologist […] but being a good psychologist doesn’t seem to make people good poets” (4).  [MLA]

 

According to Phillips (2001), “being a good poet makes you a good psychologist […] but being a good psychologist doesn’t seem to make people good poets” (p. 4). [APA]

 

Here we’ve used a simple “according to” phrase to introduce the quote, and we’ve used ellipses with brackets to use part of quote that we may find most emphatic.  Note the ellipses are in brackets.  Any change you make to the original quote, changes of verb tense, capitalization, etc, need to be bracketed.  Also, you do not need to introduce or end your quotes with ellipses; they are only used with quotes to indicate omitted information in the middle.  In addition to citing our source, we have also qualified our author.  Rather than just providing the name, we have provided relevant context, which strengthens our essay by providing credibility. 

 


2.  Use an independent clause and a colon.

 

Creativity is ripe with paradox.  For example, artists often have a complex understanding of human nature while those who have studied  human nature often have no artistic ability: “Being a good poet makes you a good psychologist, it is suggested, one capable of ‘profound insight,’ but being a good psychologist doesn’t seem to make people good poets” (Phillips 4).  [MLA]

 

Creativity is ripe with paradox.  For example, artists often have a complex understanding of human nature while those who have studied  human nature often have no artistic ability: “Being a good poet makes you a good psychologist, it is suggested, one capable of ‘profound insight,’ but being a good psychologist doesn’t seem to make people good poets” (Phillips, 2001, p 4).  [APA]

 

The key here is to make sure you have a complete sentence (independent clause) preceding the quote.  If you do not have an independent clause before the quote, the sentence is a fragment.

 


3.  Incorporate the quote into the context of your sentence.

 

While “being a good poet” may turn an otherwise uneducated person into “a good psychologist,” the authors of many scholarly texts would not be able to craft a metaphor if their lives depended on it (Phillips 4).  [MLA]

 

While “being a good poet” may turn an otherwise uneducated person into “a good psychologist,” the authors of many scholarly texts would not be able to craft a metaphor if their lives depended on it (Phillips, 2001, p 4).  [APA]

 

 

 

This technique is the most sophisticated, but it also has potential for mishap: be sure to make all your verb tenses and pronouns consistent.  If the quote uses a plural verb while your sentence has a singular subject, your sentence will be incorrect grammatically.  Either use brackets to change certain parts of the original quote, or change your sentence to match the quote.  Either way, consistency is the goal.

 

 


 

Those are three different ways in incorporating quotations into the flow of your essay (thus avoiding the weakness of free-standing quotes).  Which of the three ways is the best?  A well-written documented essay will have examples of all three types, depending on the context of the quote.

 

You should also be aware of block quotes.  Any quote that fills more than three lines of your paper needs to be offset (blocked) from the rest of your essay. 

 

As a final note, always remember to cite the quotes correctly with parenthetical citations and a works cited page.

 

 

Phillips, Adam.  “Poetry and Psychoanalysis.”  Promises, Promises: Essays on Psychoanalysis and Literature.  New York: Basic, 2001. 1-34.  [MLA]

 

Philips, A. (2001).  Poetry and psychoanalysis.  Promises, promises: Essays on psychoanalysis and literature (pp 1-34). New York: Basic.  [APA]

 

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