Quoting authors

Key words: direct quote, short quote, long quote, reporting words and phrases, indenting, ellipsis

Occasionally, you may use direct quotes (the exact words of the author) as evidence in your writing. It is useful sometimes to use the original words of the author when those exact words carry special significance. Direct quoting should not, however, be the primary strategy for presenting evidence in your writing.

Please note that the APA referencing style is used in this workshop.

About direct quotes

When you use a direct quote, you copy and reference the exact word/s of the author into your writing. A direct quote may be:

  • One word
  • A phrase or part of a sentence
  • A sentence
  • A group of sentences
Exercise 1: Identifying direct quotes

Read this paragraph and note the direct quotes:

For ALL quotes:
  • Use the exact words of the author
  • Make sure your quotation blends with the sentence
  • Use strong or weak author to acknowledge the source
  • Use reporting words or phrases to integrate the quote into your writing
  • Reference your source of information with author, date and page or paragraph number

Rules for short & long direct quotes 

When you decide to use the exact words of an author in your writing, you will need to consider whether you want to use only a few words (short quote) or a longer chunk of text (long quote). There are different rules for using quotes according to the length of the quote.

Short direct quotes (APA rules)

Short quotes are less than 40 words. Follow these conventions:

  • use double quotation marks “…”
  • include the quote in the text by using reporting words
 According to Princeton Writing Centre (2009, para. 7), direct quotes should only be used provide support for academic argument for a “compelling” (one word) reason and the choice to quote may be because “you want your readers to be able to see, in full, what someone else has said” (16 words) before you go on to analyse the statement.

Long direct quotes (APA rules)

Long quotes are 40 words or more. Follow these conventions:

  • leave no space above and below the long quote
  • make the text size the same as the essay text size
  • indent approximately one centimetre to the right
  • do not use quotation marks 
 

Students often misunderstand the role of quotations in writing and overdo the strategy:

Students include four quotations where one would do. This can give the impression that you don’t have enough to say and are using quotations to take up space [a common strategy for some students]. Also, the excessive use of quotes … may be taken to indicate that you don’t understand the position well enough to explain it in your own words. (Dartmouth, 2008, para. 11) (62 words)

Moreover, there are a number of technical rules that students need to learn to use quotations correctly in their writing. 

 

Rules for punctuating direct quotes 

When you join your introductory words to your quote, use the following punctuation rules:

Click on each link for a description.

No punctuation if the quote is fully integrated
According to Princeton Writing Centre (2009, para. 7), direct quotes should only be used provide support for academic argument for a “compelling” reason and that the choice to quote may be because “you want your readers to be able to see, in full, what someone else has said before you go on to analyse the statement” …
A comma if you have used a reporting word or phrase
As the Princeton Writing Centre (2009, para. 7) instructs its students, “You should present a quote exactly as the author wrote it, down to the punctuation”.
No comma if you've used a reporting word or phrase followed by 'that'
The Princeton Writing Centre (2009, para. 7) instructs its students that “You should present a quote exactly as the author wrote it, down to the punctuation”.
Punctuation mark goes after the end of the quote
Princeton Writing Centre (2009, para. 7) instructs its students, “You should present a quote exactly as the author wrote it, down to the punctuation”, and that they must “observe all of the rules if any changes are made to the text or punctuation of a quote“.
A colon (:) OR a comma precedes (goes before) most long quotes (more than 40 words).
 

Writing teachers note that students often misunderstand the role of quotations in writing and overdo the strategy. For example:

[S]tudents include four quotations where one would do. This can give the impression that you don’t have enough to say and are using quotations to take up space. Also, the excessive use of quotes can make an assignment look like a patchwork quilt which may be taken to indicate that you don’t understand the position well enough to explain it in your own words. (Dartmouth, 2008, para. 11)

Rules for modifying quotes

Exercise 2: Modifying direct quotes

Click on ‘Start analysis’ to see how the quotes have been modified

Conventions for modifying direct quotes

The following table gives you a few of the most common rules for modifying the words of authors in a direct quote:

Making a change Correct convention
Leaving out some words (because you may not need all of the words in the middle of the quote) Use an ellipsis signal (three dots … ). Leave a space either side of the 3 dots
Changing the capitalisation of a letter Use square brackets [ ] around the letter
Adding words to the quote (without changing the meaning) Use square brackets [ ] around the added words

Don’t do this!

  • Don’t just dump quoted information into your paragraph. Blend the words of the author with your own words.
  • Don’t use too many direct quotes in your writing (e.g. 2-3 long quotes and 4-5 short quotes is enough in a 2000 word essay). The lecturers prefer to see paraphrasing – writing quotes in your own words).
  • Don’t change a couple of words from a direct quote and think that it is a paraphrase – either use the exact words or change the words of the author significantly so that it is a correct paraphrase.

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