9 Rules For Using Quotes In Essays Or Articles

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What Are Quotes?

A quotation, or quote, is a group of words imported directly in a piece of writing from an external source, such as a speech or a passage by someone other than the author.

Quoted words are indicated by quotation marks which are in form of either single inverted commas (‘quoted words’) or double inverted commas ("quoted words"). There is no strict rule on whether to use single or double quotes. However, it is standard to use single quotes in British English and double quotes in American English. Whatever style you choose, be consistent throughout the essay.

Quoting versus plagiarism

When writing essays, quotes can be used to expand or back an idea with solid factual evidence. However when quoting someone’s work you also risk being accused of plagiarism if do not properly cite the owner.

In primary school or secondary school (high school), it is not usually imperative to cite the owner of the quote. At this level, lack of citation is usually overlooked as a novice error. However, at college or university level, proper citations are required whenever you quote someone’s work in your work. At this level, using someone’s quote in your essay without properly citing the original source is treated as plagiarism.

When to use quotes in your essays

A quotation should only be used when it is absolutely necessary to do so. For example, you might use a quote when you needed to point out another person’s opinion, or when you need to use a famous person’s opinion to validate your point.

When using quotations in an essay, always remember that your essay should have more impact on the reader than the quote has. Your essay should sound complete on its own without the quotes. Quotations should be used to make an already strong essay stronger.

Why use quotes when writing essays?

Some of the reasons to include quotes in your essays are to:

  • hook the reader’s attention at the begin of the essay.
  • build credibility for your essay.
  • add humor.
  • make the essay more interesting.
  • show your depth of knowledge on the subject.
  • include interesting ideas from another source.

How to use quotes in any form of academic writing

1. Use an ellipsis when removing some text in a quote

Sometimes a quotation might not exactly suit the context of your essay. In that case you might have to alter the quotation, such as to remove some words.

If you have to remove some text from the quote then replace the missing text with an ellipsis (three periods surrounded by spaces). For example, if a quote says:

"enthusiasm of the teacher during the lesson is the key to garnering the attention of the students."

It can be edited by removing words that are out of context of the essay as follows:

According to Mr Moyo, "enthusiasm of the teacher … is the key to garnering the attention of the students."

However, do not use an ellipsis at the beginning or end of a quote, even if you are omitting original text.

For example:

According to Mr Moyo, "enthusiasm of the teacher during the lesson is the key to garnering the attention."

2. Use square brackets when replacing some text in a quote

If you have alter a quote by replacing some text, enclose the added text within square brackets. This is usually useful if, for example, you need to alter pronouns in a quote to match the context of the sentence.

For example, if you need to quote someone who was advising their son, "treat your wife like a queen," you use square brackets to modify the subject of the quote as follows:

Eric advised his son to "treat [his] wife like a queen."

Alternatively, if you want to the include the original phrasing of the quote as it is, then you can include it as follows:

Eric advised his son, "treat your wife like a queen."

3. Use quotation marks when directly quoting a passage word-for-word

When quoting a passage or speech, if the quote is preceded by an identifier such as "he said" or "according to the professor", a comma should be placed after the identifier but outside the quotation marks. For example:

On the issue of revision, Sir Chako says, "Spaced repetition is more effective than cramming."

4. Never use quotation marks when paraphrasing a passage

If you want to paraphrase a passage or speech using your own words, you do not have to use quotation marks. For example:

A speech like,

On the issue of revision, Sir Chako says, "Spaced repetition is more effective than cramming."

can be paraphrased to,

On the issue of revision, Sir Chako says that spaced repetition works better than cramming.

5. Always put trailing periods and commas inside the quotation marks

A trailing period (full stop) or comma should be put inside the quotation marks.

For example:

"Spaced repetition is more effective than cramming," says Sir Chako.

6. Put quotation marks to emphasise words you have imported into the context of a sentence

When you import words as they are from a source into the context of your sentence, you should put quotes around the words. For example:

The author seemed to stress the point of spaced repetition being "more effective than cramming when preparing for exams."

The words in quotes are the exact words used by the source.

7. Use punctuations inside quotations as they are in the source

If there are punctuations in the original text they should also be used in the quotation. For example:

In the novel A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens the character of Scrooge is presented as "self-contained, and solitary as an oyster."

The comma in the quoted phrase appear in the original passage and therefore needs to be included in the quotation.

8. Use quotation marks when quoting the title of a passage

When you have to put a title of a passage in your essay, put quotation marks around the title of a passage. For example:

In "One Man Down," the author describes how he lost his brother to an unknown ailment.

9. Use brackets to insert words for clarity in a quote

If the quote is unclear, you can insert words in square brackets to clarify the context of the quote. For example:

Mr Mavhaire believes that "it [statistics] should be taught in primary school."

Without the word "statistics" in the quote, the sentence is less clear on what "it" refers to.

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Sydney Chako

Mathematics, Chemistry and Physics teacher at Sytech Learning Academy. From Junior Secondary School to Tertiary Level Engineering Mathematics and Engineering Science.


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