Quoting the words of others
There are two ways to incorporate quotations in your writing: run-in quotations and block quotations.
Short quotations can generally be run in to the main text using quotation marks.
In his novel White Noise, Don DeLillo neatly summarizes the materialist philosophy: “It’s all this activity in the brain and you don’t know what’s you as a person and what’s some neuron that just happens to fire or just happens to misfire.”
Longer quotations should be set off from the main text, and are referred to as block quotations. Because the quoted material is set off from the main text, it is not necessary to use quotation marks. Style varies, but at a minimum a block quotation should have a bigger left-hand margin than the main text. In contrast to the main text, a block quotation might also have a bigger right-hand margin, be in a smaller or otherwise different font, or have reduced line spacing.
In Walden, Henry David Thoreau makes the case for following one’s dreams:
I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him; or the old laws be expanded, and interpreted in his favor in a more liberal sense, and he will live with the license of a higher order of beings.
How do you determine if your quotation is short (allowing it to be incorporated into the main text) or long (requiring a block quotation)? It depends. For academic writing, the Modern Language Association (MLA) requires block quotations whenever the quoted material exceeds four lines, while the American Psychological Association (APA) requires block quotations for anything exceeding forty words. If you are not subject to a specific rule, establish your own (fifty words is reasonable) and use it consistently throughout your document.
Introducing the quoted material: when to use a comma, colon, period, or no punctuation at all.
The comma is the mark most frequently used to introduce quoted material.
The flight attendant asked, “May I see your boarding pass?”
Buddha says, “Even death is not to be feared by one who has lived wisely.”
A colon should be used when the text introducing the quoted material could stand as a sentence on its own. It is also the mark most commonly used to introduce a block quotation.
In Food Rules, Michael Pollan summarizes his extensive writing about food with seven words of advice: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
A period can be used to introduce a block quotation when the introductory text stands on its own as a complete sentence. In such cases, a colon is also proper—and sometimes preferable.
When the quoted material flows directly from your introductory text, no punctuation should be used before the quotation. A very short quotation may also be introduced without punctuation. The unpunctuated lead-in is most commonly used with run-in quotations, but it is also appropriate for introducing block quotations that flow directly from the introductory text.
In her closing statement, the prosecutor spoke forcefully of the defendant’s “callous disregard for human life.”
Though marshaling little evidence, the authors claim that “over half of British prisoners come from single-parent households.”
We tried to persuade him, but he said “No way.”
The phrase “be that as it may” appears far too often in this manuscript.
Quotes within quotes
When a run-in quotation contains quotation marks within the quoted material itself, use single quotation marks in their place. When the material being quoted contains a quotation within a quotation (i.e., something in single quotation marks), use double quotation marks.
The author’s final argument is less convincing: “When Brown writes of ‘interpreting the matter through a “structuralist” lens,’ he opens himself to the same criticism he made earlier in his own paper.”
Today, digital cameras have practically taken over photography. As Johnson (2010) explained,
Digital cameras now make up 90% of all camera sales at the leading electronic stores. This increase in sales can be partially attributed to the widespread use of email and social networking, which has encouraged the sharing of digital photos. (p. 23)
Johnson further noted that, even more than with the shift to digital cameras, the increasing use of phones and iPods that have built-in cameras has replaced the use of film cameras.
Computer users often disagree about which operating system is best: Mac or PC. Oyler (2010) stated that one operating system is not better than the other, but that one may be better suited for different purposes than the other. She explained by saying that
Macs are often the best option for users who wish to work with video or picture manipulation. Macs are also very user friendly, which may benefit consumers who are new to computers. PCs, however, run Microsoft Office Suite the best. Therefore, students might find that a PC is their best option because it can run Microsoft Word and PowerPoint the smoothest. (Oyler, 2010, p. 48)
Conversely, Jones (2010) disagreed with the statement that Macs work with graphics such as video and pictures better than PCs, stating that PCs can be modified to work as well as Macs.