Monday, November 9, 2015

The Art of Quoting: Why, When, and How Often to Quote Material

By Marilyn Savich

“Do I use too many quotes?” is a common question students ask while revising their essays. Truth be told, there isn’t a set number that can account for all assignments. While some professors may specify a one or two quote maximum, often times you will have to determine the occasion when a quote will strengthen your paper and at what point it will overshadow your voice. The good news is that there are helpful questions you can ask yourself to guide you in confidently deciding where, when, and how often to quote. 

The first question to consider is: Why did I choose to put that particular text in quotation marks? 

If you chose to incorporate a quote because of its particular words, which you will be unpacking and discussing, you’ve made an appropriate decision.  Some kinds of quote-worthy material that fall under the category of word choice include: definitions from a dictionary or author, unique terms coined by a scholar, and words put in quotation marks in order to convey irony and sarcasm (also known as scare quotes).


1) According to the Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the day, aside from a cute and furry animal with antlers, the word ‘moose’ could also mean, “a pottage; stewed vegetables.”

2) Globalization theorist Arjun Appadurai considers a “mediascape” to be a particular movement that refers to the exchange of images and videos from one country to another.

3) Clearly having very high expectations, The Devil Wears Prada character Miranda Priestly’s response to her fashion team’s lack of original ideas depicts her tendency to express frustration through mockery, as she remarks: “Florals? For spring? ‘Groundbreaking.’”

If the quote expresses an idea in a peculiar or provocative manner that you cannot paraphrase or summarize without changing the meaning of the author, then it’s better to keep it in quotation format.


1) An expert on gravity, Albert Einstein astutely reminded people that, “Gravitation is not responsible for people falling in love.”

If what’s important about the quote is the particular speaker or source it comes from, giving weight to your argument and thesis, then you have a good reason to quote it.


In analyzing the success of Apple, one of the most powerful companies in the world, the co-founder Steve Jobs emphasized that, “Quality is much better than quantity. One home run is much better than two doubles.”

However, beyond the word choice, if you are quoting material because it merely conveys a particular idea that gets your point across, I encourage you to consider paraphrasing or summarizing that very same idea instead. The reason you want to avoid unnecessary quoting is, because quotations lose their significance when overused. Besides, the majority of any assignment should consist of your perspective and wording since the professor will be most interested in your own thoughts and interpretation of the materials that you weaved together.

This discussion of incorporating materials leads us to question number two: How do I appropriately integrate a quote into my essay?

If a quote stands alone, you haven’t properly engaged with it. You should always introduce a quote at the beginning and/or end of a sentence. In either case, any sentence that features a quote should also contain your own words.


Dutch-American artist Willem de Kooning was of the charming opinion that, “History does not influence me. I influence it.”

 “Shantih, Shantih, Shantih,” in the poem, The Waste Land, is indicative of T.S. Eliot’s preference for rhythmic, repetitive endings (para. 14).

Of course, directly after a quote, the essay needs your analysis of that quote. This reminder will come in handy when answering question number three: Where do I put the quote?

A quote should always be within body paragraph(s). It should not be the first sentence of any paragraph, also known as the topic sentence, because the topic sentence functions as a preview of what you will talk about in the coming paragraph. A quote should not be placed at the end of a body paragraph either, because you need to address the significance of the quote and how your interpretation relates to your thesis at the end of the body paragraph. When it comes to the conclusion, it is generally advised to end in your own words rather than to end on a quote. While there are exceptions to this suggestion, the reason it is not recommended to end on a quote is because you want your readers to remember you, not the author of the quote. It can make a strong impression on your professors when you have used your knowledge about the assignment, audience, and topic at hand to end your own essay.

When it comes to quotes, keep them fresh, keep them selective, and keep them honest. You are probably well aware that, when you find yourself in a time crunch, it is always much better to have too many quotes than to plagiarize and falsely portray someone else’s words as your own. When you are thoughtfully considering whether to quote, paraphrase, or summarize, remember that quotes are more powerful when there are fewer of them. Moreover, quotes should serve to stimulate your critical thinking skills rather than to accomplish the work for you.  


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