I am sure you have all been waiting in excited anticipation for the next Writing 101 article, and today I shall fill that void. For any new readers, this column is about the more basic concepts in academic writing that we tend to forget about as they fade into the background of everything else we learn about writing. I chose academic writing for Writing 101’s focus because an academic end has been the majority of my writing experience. While I do often write about topics that transition to other forms of writing, the bulk of this column will be geared toward the essay. If you would like some interesting insight into fiction writing, Amy (co-creator and website wizard of this site) has created a great YouTube series called Read Ink. Check it out!
Today, I would like to discuss an element of academic writing that is of vital importance to supporting your arguments. Integrating quotes into your essay. This is an element that plagues mainly Freshman and Sophomores, but some veteran writers get it wrong as well. This article will regard the integration process for quotes but not the selection process, because that could be an article unto itself.
Proper quote integration is important for any academic writer because it helps support your argument and places your essay into the larger academic discussion. It also makes sure that you are not passing other people’s ideas as your own (intentionally or by accident). Note: all of this information is based on the MLA writing format, as I know more about this writing format than I do others like APA, Chicago, etc.
The Three Parts of a Quote
Quote integration requires the writer to do three things to work the quote into context with their argument.
1). Attribute the source- Who said it/ why should the reader care what this person has to say?
2). Quote the source- What did they say?
3). Justify the source- Why is this quote here, taking up valuable page real estate?
These are the three basic requirements that you need to meet. How you do them will be determined by the length of the quote.
When using a quote from an external source, you need to tell the reader who you are pulling your support from and why we should care. This can be as simple as an article/book title and a name, but I recommend covering you bases by including the author’s name, their affiliation (if available), and the name of their work.
Ex: Dr. Whozits, of the University of Studyingthings, says, in her article “The Importance of Having a Double-chin,”…
This tells the reader who the source is, an associated institution, which tells the reader why they should care, and the article’s name so they can look it up later. Now all of this information will be echoed in the Works Cited page (or Bibliography) but it’s never a bad thing to have the information in both places. Digging through a Bibliography seems reasonable when there are only a few entries, but when they span multiple pages it can be quite the hassle to dig through them, even though they are usually alphabetized. Including all the above information on the first quote (which is the only time you will need to put all this info) of the source will give the reader a place to highlight and refer back to later. Furthermore, including all the info upfront and in the Works Cited protects you from any possible accusations of plagiarism. And remember, after the first use of the quoted source, you only need to refer to the author’s name in the attribution.
The Quote Itself
This is the most vital piece of the quote integration process, for obvious reasons. It is also relatively simple. Tell the reader what the person said. The formatting however can be a bit more complex, as it requires some fancy punctuation footwork and an in-text citation at the end of the quote.
A simple quote will work into the sentence much like dialogue in fiction. See here for how that works. The biggest difference is that you usually will not have the attribution after the quote (at least not on the first use of the source). The first reference to the quoted material will take the attribution example above and add the quote to it. Pay attention to the punctuation.
Ex: Dr. Whozits, of the University of Studyingthings, says, in her article “The Importance of Having a Double-chin,” “Regular chins are quite boring” (53).
The look of the in-text citation will entirely depend on your attribution and whether or not this is the first use of the source. Usually, the first use of the source requires the authors last name and page number of the quoted text (Whozits 53). However, since we front-loaded the attribution with the author’s name we only need the page number in the citation.
I know it is super punctuation-heavy, but you have to keep your clauses (your academic ducks) in a row. If you prefer, you can split the information into two sentences, attribution in one and quote in the other, but it may read clunkier.
Ex: Dr, Whozits, of the University of Studyingthings wrote an article called “The Importance of Having a Double-chin.” In the article, she says, “Regular chins are quite boring” (Whozits 53).
This works just fine, but remember, since the quote is a different sentence, you will have to include the author’s name for the first use of the source. Also remember, for any and all uses of a source after the first one, you only need the page number in the citation.
When you quote another source, you are using analysis/information that does not come from you. I know that using sources is part of the point, as you need to support your arguments or show evidence/data, but you have to balance your support and data with your own insights. So, any amount of page space that you take up with other writers’ work you need to justify with your own work. This aspect is more difficult to explain than the other two because it is entirely determined by your argument and the larger purpose of the essay. To justify a source, you need to answer the question “so what?” For our example, after the quote “regular chins are boring,” you would have to explain how this quote fits into your argument and continue from there.
When quotes are integrated correctly, they seamlessly work into your argument and do a lot of work for your essay. In the near future I may write a Writing 101 article on quote selection, which is much more subjective and difficult to explain. Until then this should give you some pointers on how to work quoted material into your essays.