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Referencing Quotes In Essay

What is quoting?

Quoting is where you copy an author's text word for word, place quotation marks around the words and add a citation at the end of the quote. Quotes should be using sparingly. Using too many quotes can suggest you don't fully understand the text you are referring to.

In scientific writing, you should generally paraphrase from sources, rather than quote directly. Quoting more extended sections of text tends to be more common in arts and humanities subjects where it may be appropriate to quote frequently from the literature that is being analysed.

As you take notes, ensure you clearly mark where you have quoted directly from the source.

Direct quotations

If you use a direct quotation from an author, you should:

  • enclose it in quotation marks
  • give the author, date and page number(s) that the quotation was taken from, in brackets.

If you are quoting from a website or webpage that does not have page numbers, you do not need to include anything to indicate this in the citation.

"Language is subject to change, and is not caused by unnecessary sloppiness, laziness or ignorance" (Aitchison, 1981, p.67).

Quotations more than two lines long

If the quotation is more than two lines:

  • separate it from the rest of the paragraph by one free line above and below
  • indent at left and right margins
  • it may be in a smaller point size
  • it is preceded by a colon
  • it does not use quotation marks
  • the citation includes author, date and page number(s) that the quotation was taken from.

One answer to this is that language has always been subject to change, just as everything else in the world is, and we should not feel that this is a bad thing. As Aitchison (1981, p.16) puts it:

Language, then, like everything else, gradually transforms itself over the centuries. There is nothing surprising in this. In a world where humans grow old, tadpoles change into frogs, and milk turns into cheese, it would be strange if language alone remained unaltered. In spite of this, large numbers of intelligent people condemn and resent language change, regarding alterations as due to unnecessary sloppiness, laziness or ignorance.

Aitchison clearly sees every change in language as neither good nor bad, but inevitable...

Editing a quote

You may want to make minor changes to a direct quotation. This is possible (as long as you don't change the meaning), but you must follow the rules.

  • If you omit parts of the quotation, use an ellipsis. An ellipsis consists of three dots (...). Do not begin or end a direct quotation with ellipsis points. The reader already assumes that the quote has been excerpted from a larger work.
  • If you want to insert your own words, or different words, into a quotation, put them in square brackets [ ].
  • If you want to draw attention to an error in a quotation, for example a spelling mistake or wrong date, do not correct it; write [sic] in square brackets.
  • If you want to emphasise something in a quotation that is particularly relevant to your essay, put the emphasised words in italics, and state that the emphasis is your own.
  • If the original has italics, state that the italics are in the original.

Example 1:
Language changes are natural and inevitable. It has been argued that language:

gradually transforms itself over the centuries. In a world where [everything changes], it would be strange if language alone remained unaltered. In spite of this, large numbers of intelligent people condemn and resent language change (Aitchison, 1981, p.16, my italics).

Example 2:
According to Smith (1992, p.45), "Aitcheson [sic] appears to believe that everything changes; but this is questionable" (italics in original).

How to Quote a Source

Introducing a quotation

One of your jobs as a writer is to guide your reader through your text. Don't simply drop quotations into your paper and leave it to the reader to make connections.

Integrating a quotation into your text usually involves two elements:

  • A signal that a quotation is coming--generally the author's name and/or a reference to the work

  • An assertion that indicates the relationship of the quotation to your text

Often both the signal and the assertion appear in a single introductory statement, as in the example below. Notice how a transitional phrase also serves to connect the quotation smoothly to the introductory statement.

Ross (1993), in her study of poor and working-class mothers in London from 1870-1918 [signal], makes it clear that economic status to a large extent determined the meaning of motherhood [assertion]. Among this population [connection], "To mother was to work for and organize household subsistence" (p. 9).

The signal can also come after the assertion, again with a connecting word or phrase:

Illness was rarely a routine matter in the nineteenth century [assertion]. As [connection] Ross observes [signal], "Maternal thinking about children's health revolved around the possibility of a child's maiming or death" (p. 166).


Formatting Quotations

Short direct prose

Incorporate short direct prose quotations into the text of your paper and enclose them in double quotation marks:

According to Jonathan Clarke, "Professional diplomats often say that trying to think diplomatically about foreign policy is a waste of time." 1

Longer prose quotations

Begin longer quotations (for instance, in the APA system, 40 words or more) on a new line and indent the entire quotation (i.e., put in block form), with no quotation marks at beginning or end, as in the quoted passage from our Successful vs. Unsucessful Paraphrases page.

Rules about the minimum length of block quotations, how many spaces to indent, and whether to single- or double-space extended quotations vary with different documentation systems; check the guidelines for the system you're using.


Quotation of Up to 3 Lines of Poetry

Quotations of up to 3 lines of poetry should be integrated into your sentence. For example:

In Julius Caesar, Antony begins his famous speech with "Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears; / I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him" (III.ii.75-76).

Notice that a slash (/) with a space on either side is used to separate lines.

Quotation of More than 3 Lines of Poetry

More than 3 lines of poetry should be indented. As with any extended (indented) quotation, do not use quotation marks unless you need to indicate a quotation within your quotation.


Punctuating with Quotation Marks

Parenthetical citations

With short quotations, place citations outside of closing quotation marks, followed by sentence punctuation (period, question mark, comma, semi-colon, colon):

Menand (2002) characterizes language as "a social weapon" (p. 115).

With block quotations, check the guidelines for the documentation system you are using.

Commas and periods

Place inside closing quotation marks when no parenthetical citation follows:

Hertzberg (2002) notes that "treating the Constitution as imperfect is not new," but because of Dahl's credentials, his "apostasy merits attention" (p. 85).

Semicolons and colons

Place outside of closing quotation marks (or after a parenthetical citation).

Question marks and exclamation points

Place inside closing quotation marks if the quotation is a question/exclamation:

Menand (2001) acknowledges that H. W. Fowler's Modern English Usage is "a classic of the language," but he asks, "Is it a dead classic?" (p. 114).

[Note that a period still follows the closing parenthesis.]

Place outside of closing quotation marks if the entire sentence containing the quotation is a question or exclamation:

How many students actually read the guide to find out what is meant by "academic misconduct"?

Quotation within a quotation

Use single quotation marks for the embedded quotation:

According to Hertzberg (2002), Dahl gives the U. S. Constitution "bad marks in 'democratic fairness' and 'encouraging consensus'" (p. 90).

[The phrases "democratic fairness" and "encouraging consensus" are already in quotation marks in Dahl's sentence.]


Indicating Changes in Quotations

Quoting Only a Portion of the Whole

Use ellipsis points (. . .) to indicate an omission within a quotation--but not at the beginning or end unless it's not obvious that you're quoting only a portion of the whole.

Adding Clarification, Comment, or Correction

Within quotations, use square brackets [ ] (not parentheses) to add your own clarification, comment, or correction.

Use [sic] (meaning "so" or "thus") to indicate that a mistake is in the source you're quoting and is not your own.



1. "The Conceptual Poverty of U.S. Foreign Policy," Atlantic, September 1993, 55.