The Quality Writing Center
Kimpel Hall 315/319
Guidelines and MLA style
Thanks to Edward Armstrong, Bill Notter, and The Bedford Handbook for Writers, 4th Edition, by Diana Hacker
Writers use quotations for one primary reason: to support their arguments. A reasonable argument makes well-supported and/or developed claims about a topic. Quotations can show readers that the claim has some basis in a source and can capture the distinctive language or phrasing of the source.
(1) Know your claim.
If you are unclear about the claim you want to make in the first place, then finding a quotation to support that point will be difficult.
(2) Don’t expect the quote
alone to make the point.
Explain why you are using a quote: how does it support your argument or illustrate your point? When writing about literature, it might be necessary to explain what the quote means or to justify the way you interpret its meaning.
Do not just quote a chunk of text and expect readers to understand how it fits into the paper. Make sure they understand exactly why you are using the quote.
(3) Integrate quotes with your
Smoothly integrate quotations with original writing so readers can move from your words to the words of a source without feeling a “jolt.” Avoid dropping quotations into the text without warning; instead, provide clear signal phrases, usually by including the author’s name, to prepare readers for the quotation.
Although the bald eagle is still listed as an endangered species, its ever-increasing population is very encouraging. According to ornithologist Jay Sheppard, “The bald eagle seems to have stabilized its population, at the very least, almost everywhere” (96).
To avoid monotony, vary signal phrases as in these examples:
In the words of author and activist Rick Bass, “My heart was wild and did not belong among people."
As Flora Davis has noted, “The turbulent, affluent, optimistic 1960s provided an unusually hospitable climate for feminism.”
The Gardners, experts in archaeology, point out that “Colorado was the cradle of the Anasazi culture.”
“This action is in fact a call for a lawless world,” claims linguist Noam Chomsky.
Psychologist Sidney McMaynerberry offers an argument for his theory: “It’s all in your mind.”
Brady answers her critics by asserting, “I did not know that it was made of people.”
Using active verbs in the signal phrase lets you show how an author approaches a topic. Is your source arguing a point, making an observation, reporting facts, drawing a conclusion, refuting an argument, or stating a belief? Choosing an appropriate verb, such as one from the following list, can make the author’s stance clear.
(4) Choose quotations effectively.
Sources are there to use in supporting a claim. Choose words, phrases, sentences, stanzas, or paragraphs that support your argument and represent the source fairly and accurately. Quote only what is necessary to show that your claim is believable. Instead of quoting a complete sentence, practice integrating a phrase or part of a sentence from the source within your own sentence structure:
Brian Millsap claims that banning DDT in 1972 was “the major turning point” in the bald eagle’s comeback.
The ultrasonography machine takes approximately 250 views of each breast, step by step. Mary Spletter likens the process to “examining an entire loaf of bread, one slice at a time” (40).
In refusing to have the cat fixed, Judith was uncompromising. As the narrator says, Judith believed it
would be “morally wrong” for her to neuter the cat “simply to suit her own convenience” (144).
MLA Quoting Conventions
(1) Ellipses—three periods with a space before each and a space after the last—are used when words are omitted from the middle of a quotation. If you omit an entire sentence, use four periods. Some instructors may want you to place brackets around ellipses [ . . . ] to show that the ellipses are yours and not part of the quoted material. Beginning or ending a quotation with an ellipsis is not necessary; it is assumed that material is left out before and after what is quoted.
According to John Ashbery, “The seasons are [. . .] bumping into other things, getting along somehow.”
(2) Use block quotations when quoting four or more lines. Block quotations—
• do not require quotation marks
• are indented one inch from the left margin
• should be used very sparingly
• are double-spaced
(3) When quoting three lines or fewer from a poem or song, show line breaks with a forward slash ( / ).
The ending of Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower” is foreboding, suggesting the arrival of something evil: “Outside in the distance a wildcat did growl / Two riders were approaching, / The wind began to howl” (21-23).
(Also note that parenthetical citations for poetry refer to line numbers rather than page numbers.)
(4) Paraphrasing is an effective tool
for summarizing ideas, especially when the source’s language is not
especially distinctive. If nothing would be lost by paraphrasing, summarize
an author’s ideas in your own words instead of quoting. Remember to
credit the source with citations and signal phrases.
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