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Can you give some advice on how best to quote from and cite a source in an essay? When should quotes be inserted and how?

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Quotations are used in essays to either prove or illustrate your argument. Therefore, the quote you use should always be relevant and related to your argument. In addition, since your quote is always used to prove your argument, one thing you want to make sure to do is always surround your quote with your own words. One common mistake students make is writing in such a way that their quotes stand alone as sentences all by themselves. Instead, we want our quotes to be fully integrated into our own sentences. Below is an example of a fully integrated quote:

  • Puck rightly characterizes the foolishness of the Athenians' behavior and the foolishness of love in his lines, "Shall we their fond pageant see? / Lord, what fools these mortals be!" (III.ii.115-116).

In contrast, here is an example a quote that has not been integrated:

  • "Lord, what fools these mortals be!" Puck rightly characterizes the foolishness of the Athenians' behavior.

In the first example it is obvious that the writer is using the quote to prove his/her own point, while in the second example, the quote is just randomly sitting there in the essay.

When we are citing long passages, usually to explain a history, a study, or another author's perspective, we have a second option beyond a direct quote and that option is a paraphrase. A paraphrase is a summary of another author's words but put into your own words. When paraphrasing, you have to be very careful about using your own words, otherwise, you will plagiarize the other author.

Both direct quotes and paraphrases must be cited correctly, and how to cite the source actually depends on the referencing style you are required to use. The referencing style actually depends on your course of study. Many high school students are typically not required to use anything other than MLA. College students, on the other hand, will be required to use the referencing style used by their department. Typically, humanities students, including students in English and Literature, are typically required to use MLA; social science students, especially psychology students, use APA; history, theology, and business students use either Chicago or Turabian; and finally, science students use either one form or the other of CSE. Consult your course handbook, syllabus, or your instructor if you are unsure of what referencing style to use.

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spryan44 | Student

Quotation and citation are vital tools a writer can use to directly reference a text, enhance their argument, and strengthen credibility. Quoting is when you use an excerpt from the text you're talking about, and citation is when you give the original author of that work credit. It is important that quotation and citation are both present in your work because quotation without the connection to the author is technically plagiarism. Using citation in a paper can help make your argument logical, ethical, and credible.

There are two main forms of citation: direct quotation and paraphrasing.

  • Direct quotation is when you use the specific wording of the original text and surround it with quotation marks to show that it is the author's words and not your own.
  • Paraphrasing is when you summarize or explain a particular excerpt in your own words rather than the author's words while still referencing where the excerpt is in the original text.

The way you cite your excerpts will depend on formatting (MLA, APA, Chicago are just a few examples). Below are two fictitious examples of the two forms of citation.

*Keep in mind that using different types of texts require different formatting. I will use MLA formatting for my examples*

Direct quotation:

"Citation is easy as long as you follow the rules," (Author's last name, 100)


The author of the text explains that introducing an author's work is not very difficult as long as the writer follows the rules for citation. (Author's last name, 100)

For both examples, the '100' within the parentheses refer to the page where the quote or information appears in the original text. 

Both forms of citation can be used at any time, but each method of citation has its own benefits. 

  • Direct quotation is a great resource if you want to talk about the specific word choice of an author, a figurative element of the text, or even an assertion that the text makes. The direct quotation allows the writer to analyze the specifics of a text and make assertions in retort.
  • Paraphrasing allows a writer to summarize or reference a specific section of a text without losing credibility. Paraphrasing shows that your writing is still connected to the original text which provides the writer with credibility.

Here are some simple rules to follow:

  • Use direct quotation when the author said it best. 
  • Always give the author credit. Quoting without citing is plagiarism which will likely reward you a failing grade.
  • Using direct quotes is a good way to strengthen your argument, but if you plan on using a quote you have to explain why you used it and how it is important in regard to your thesis/ argument. 
  • Paraphrasing is a useful tool to summarize a text, but you should plan to explain it further. 
  • Always be sure to relate your citations back to your argument. 

Here are some tips to make your citations even better:

  • Use a signal phrase. A signal phrase is when you introduce and give context to the quote. (example: Dr. So-and-so writes in her novel, How do I quote?, that "Citation is easy as long as you follow the rules," (So-and-so, 100) 
  • Giving a context before using quotation is important because that helps the reader interpret the text. You, the writer, can construct the context in a way that helps the reader better understand your thesis.
  • Try to have at least one citation in each paragraph to give yourself a well-rounded argument.
  • Don't be afraid to interpret the citation. The point of citing a source is to bring the text into your work, but the interpretation is what connects the text to your thesis. 


crystaltu001 | Student

In an essay, the best quotes to use are the ones with the most useful information and the fewest words. This is because it keeps the essay nice, simple, and useful. This method helps make sure that you are not giving out useless information. Therefore, this method is fairly effective when writing essays.

chrisyhsun | Student

Quotes should come from sources that relate directly to the subject in your essay and therefore have something to add to your essay. It may be used to prove your point or to serve as something you argue against (though this is typically not used as much). Quotes should be blended into a statement. A very basic example of such (which I would then advice you to spruce up a bit) is: The protagonist is shown to be a cheery individual as "she skipped down the hallway whistling happily" (Author Last Name, Page Number). This is just an example I made up so it does not have an actual author last name or page number, but this is the format for citing a quote. As you can see, the quote relates directly to a point I was making and in this case is used to support my statement. 

Beyond citing the quote in the sentence, it is important to include a Works Cited page at the end of the paper as well!

CaitlynnReeves | Student

As a general rule never begin or end your paragraphs with quotes. 

Even if you summarize a work, or reference it without quoting it, you should cite it. 

Be sure the quote directly relates to the paragraph and the point you are trying to make.

As far as citations go, Purdue University and Easy Bib. are your go to sources for how to cite in any format. The links are below!