Using Quotes Well

Last year, you learned how to use quotes correctly. Now we’ll review using them well. Here are a few rules of thumb…

#1) Let your quote do the difficult work

The most important thing to remember is the reason for inserting a quote in the first place is to allow the text to show something better than you can yourself. A common mistake is to lead in to the quote by saying exactly what is stated in the quote. For example… Tom says he is going to let George work on his car the next day, saying “I’ll let you have that car, I’ll send it over tomorrow afternoon” (Fitzgerald 131). This is pointless. Instead, try… Tom concedes, telling George, “I’ll let you have that car…”

#2) Do not feel obligated to keep a quote intact

If the most important parts of a quote are a bit far apart from one another, feel free to chop out the needless phrases (or sentences) with an ellipsis. Tom concedes, telling George, “I’ll let you have that car … tomorrow afternoon.” Remember, the purpose of a good quote is NOT to lengthen your paper. If you include a quote that is more than a sentence long, you are then obligated to explain why you included ALL OF IT. A decent rule of thumb is that your explanation should take up AT LEAST twice as much space on the page as the quote… so think hard about putting in that behemoth quote.

#3) “Floating Quotes”

Avoid having your quotes just float in the paragraph all alone, unsupported by any of your own words – in other words, quotes that have no lead-in or explanation surrounding it. For example: George wants to work on Tom’s car, and Tom allows him to. “I’ll let you have that car” (Fitzgerald 131). This statement pleases George immensely. How sad. The quote here is cut off from his friends, the sentences that explain it. Try to couch your quotes in either one of these two sentence types:

(A) THE RUNNING START – give a subject and a verb BEFORE you start your quote

Harold is frightened by the animal and is “jumping out of his clothes” when it growls (Wallace 25).

(B) THE LEAD-IN QUOTE – Just the opposite, begin by providing the quote, then explain its significance

Harold “[jumps] out of his clothes” when the animal growls at him, frightening him terribly (Wallace 25).

(notice, I am allowed to change the verb tense, so long as I put my changes in brackets)

#4 Leave out the unnecessary

Avoid needless lead-ins like “the following quote,” “in the quote,” “it is stated,” or any of their cousins. Do not draw attention to your quoting of the text, draw our attention to the text itself. Also, it is the character or the author that is doing the speaking, not the quote itself. So, instead of saying Fitzgerald shows Tom’s pleasant side in the quote, “I’ll let you have that car” … try instead …Fitzgerald shows Tom’s pleasant side when Tom says, “I’ll let you have that car tomorrow” (131).*

#5 Do not include a pointless quote

You have chosen a weak quote if you can say the same thing just as easily in your own words. Holden was wearing a “red hat”. On the other hand, the best quotes are ones that are not only useful in pointing something out, but also has language that can be analyzed as well. Look at the verb choice, the vocabulary, the style, and try to break it down as much as possible. GET SPECIFIC!

#6 Punctuate correctly

There is sometimes some confusion about the quote-within-a-quote punctuation. If you are quoting narration (or in other words, anything that is NOT dialogue), you simply use quotation marks – nothing unusual. If your ENTIRE quote is dialogue, you also don’t change anything – just use a regular set of quotation marks around the dialogue. The only time you have to change things up is if you use a quote that partially includes dialogue within it – or a quote within a quote. In this instance, you put the whole quote in regular quotation marks, and you use apostrophes (single quotation marks) around the dialogue. Like this: Kafka immediately shows Gregor’s skewed priorities, as “[Gregor] said to himself, ‘Before it strikes a quarter to seven, I must be completely out of bed'” (8).* Notice how Gregor’s dialogue is surrounded by single quotation marks, and the entire line from the story is surrounded by regular quotation marks. Again, you only use this rule if your quote contains both narration AND dialogue.

And notice the quote citations on this page. Provide the author’s last name and the page number WITH NO COMMA. If your sentence attached to the quote mentions either of those two pieces of information, you do not need to put them in your citation, like in the above examples marked with an asterisk * .