Tips for Integrating Quotations

by Frank

Tips for Integrating Quotations

How you integrate sources influences your voice as a writer. While original ideas should be credited, they cannot speak for themselves. Their authority depends on how the writer connects quotations to their own points while respecting the original voices they have cited. Here are a few guidelines for integrating sources.

Be selective: One rule to remember when citing is all sources must support your thesis no matter how engaging the source material may be. Even counter-arguments support your thesis in the sense that you use them to argue how your own claim is stronger. It’s important to have an adequate amount of support needed for your claim, but it is equally important to know when to pull back. You don’t want to impede your own style with other peoples’ words. You can always paraphrase (elaborate on someone’s point in your own words) or summarize (briefly state the main points of your source) rather than quote which keeps your voice intact even as you use other peoples’ ideas.

Know when to quote rather than tell: Some information (statistics, facts, events, examples, etc.) can be put into your own words. For instance, you might incorporate the fact that the sun is very old and even give an exact date. Although you would cite where you read this information it would be unnecessary to quote. Instead, save quotations for particular key phrases, borrowed terminology, ideas, and opinions. How people say things can be just as important or interesting as what they say. Some sources say things in ways that are difficult to translate into your own words without ruining the meaning, whereas a fact is a fact no matter how it is told or who tells it.

Example: Thomas Hardy acknowledged that the unadulterated and final version of his novel Jude the Obscure was addressed mainly to middle-aged readers and less to “those young ladies for whose innocence we are all so solicitous” (Wright 190-191).

Although I could easily summarize the audience Hardy anticipates as evident by his own words on the subject, here the quotation provides an opportunity to analyze his language because the tone and word choice are so ironically pointed. The word “so” alone rings with his sauciness.

Keep quotes secondary to your own claims: As a general rule, I like to tell writers: whenever you quote something, follow it up with a sentence or two that talks about how the quote relates to your argument. Whenever I see someone ending a paragraph on a quote I remind them that they are giving someone else the last word. This is your paper. Quotes should reflect what you want your paper to say.

Keep Quotes Short: Simplicity equals grace. When you reach two to three lines, your quotation already verges on being too long (this varies slightly based on your field—I don’t recommend quotes longer than four lines at most). Because you must tie all your quotes to your own purpose, the longer your quote the more lines you will have to spend analyzing how the quote fits your paper. Remember, you don’t have to quote everything; you can always quote key phrases and ideas within a summary. Also, make sure you are only quoting the relevant parts. Use ellipses (…) between passages to omit unimportant sections of a quote so that your quotes are to the point and clear.

Example: Phillips, in Coin of the Realm, addresses how poetry and myth explore experience: “Poetry shares…with myth and fable the strategy of building a story around human experience, as a means of explaining that experience, or attempting to, and as a means of (sometimes) offering instruction regarding that experience”(11).

This was a small cut: the word that the ellipses omitted was “then” which would make sense in Phillips’s book, but here might run against the flow of my paper’s discussion. Note that the words in parenthesis are the author’s and not my own.

Introduce Quotes: It is a sound policy to clarify the speaker and source of information when introducing quotes. Make sure your quotation fits into a concise, clear sentence. If the quote doesn’t match the sentence you would like to say, you can doctor the quotes (within reason) using brackets: [  ] around your emendations. But be careful not to alter the meaning of the quote: that would be unfair representation. Rather, use brackets to unite the grammar, fit the tense, clarify a pronoun, etc.

Example: “Myth and fable are distinguishable [from poetry] by their applicability across time and cultural differences. When poetry has this quality, it is called—or I call it—resonant” (Phillips 11).

Here I inserted information that would have been apparent to the reader had they read the entire passage this sentence belongs to. If I were to give the sentence without the brackets, the reader might think the sentence was contrasting myth with fable rather than “myth and fable” as a unit contrasting poetry.

For further help integrating quotes into your paper, stop by the Writing Center and schedule an appointment. The WC website also has handouts that cover similar topics and more: