How to Incorporate Quotes Into Essays

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The easiest way to improve an essay is by using quotes. Quotes will add depth, nuance and authority to your paper; they will nearly guarantee that readers will trust your voice and ideas. But be careful. If used poorly, quotes can detract from your paper’s focus, making a good argument sound flimsy and unsupported. You must use correct citation. There are different styles to choose from: Chicago Style, used primarily for the social sciences; American Psychological Association (APA), for natural and social sciences; and Modern Language Association (MLA), for the humanities. For this article, we will focus on MLA style.

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1 How to Cite Correctly

2 Use a quote

Use a quote to support an idea. For example, imagine you were writing about women in fiction. Do not write: We have learned that “a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction … ” (Woolf 4). This is sloppy writing. The purpose of a paper is to share your ideas with the reader, not repeat quotes. Instead write: Virginia Woolf writes that financial independence is necessary for a woman to succeed as a writer. In her seminal book, "A Room of One’s Own," she writes that “a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction … ” (4). Provide context for your quote. Address the meaning of the quote and make sure the reader knows why it is important. The worst thing you can do is leave a quote unaddressed.

3 Make your quote's

Make sure your quote's grammar is correct. Place quotation marks around the entire quote. Capitalize the first letter of the quote only if it begins a new sentence or comes after a comma. There are exceptions to this. If you separate the same quote with a clause, you do not need to capitalize the second part. For example, “It is a queer animal,” Virginia Woolf writes about the Manx cat, “quaint rather than beautiful” (12). The citation goes at the end of the sentence in parentheses and the period goes after that.

4 Make the citation

Make sure the citation is MLA correct. For MLA, the citation is simple. Place your quote in quotation marks and place the citation at the end of the sentence, always before the period. Like this: (Peters 2). You do not need a comma between the name and the number. If you mention the author of the article in the sentence, you do not need to place the name in the citation. For example: Woolf writes about Grace Poole, “How could she help but die young, cramped and thwarted?” (73).

5 Use ellipses

Use ellipses, which are the three periods at the end of a sentence, only if you are excerpting part of a quote. If the quote is a question or has an exclamation mark at the end, place it before the last quotation mark. Here is an example: Woolf poses the question, “Why are women … so much more interesting to men than men are to women?” (27). The ellipsis went in place of the words that have been cut out of the quote. The question mark went at the end of the quote and not the sentence.

6 Cite correctly

Cite correctly by including the full citation in the works cited. This comes at the end of the paper on a separate page. A good bibliography can go a long way toward making your paper sparkle. There are many different media that you must cite and different rules for each. Here are some rules of thumb: List the author's last name first, then the first name. Separate the first and last name with a comma. Add a period. Italicize the title of the work (if it is an article, put the title in quotes). Write the location where the book was published, add a colon, write the publisher, add a comma, then write the year it was last published and add a period. Add whether the source is in print or online and finish the citation with a period. Here is an example: Woolf, Virginia. A Room of One’s Own. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1957. Print.

  • Do not plagiarize. Plagiarism is the use of another writer's work in your essay without a correct citation. This is an academic crime of the highest degree.
  • If you are not directly quoting from a source, which is known as paraphrasing, you do not need quotation marks, but you do need a citation at the end of the sentence.
  • If you are not certain whether you are plagiarizing, have a friend or teacher look over your work. Remember, it is always better to cite unnecessarily than to be in trouble later.
  • In MLA, footnotes are not necessary for citations, but in other formats they are required.

Jonathan Peters is a freelance journalist from Los Angeles. He has written professionally since 2006 for publications such as "The Ann Arbor News," "The Swarthmore Phoenix," "The Swarthmore Daily Gazette" and "Current," a newsmagazine for college students produced by "Newsweek." Peters holds a Bachelor of Arts in history from Swarthmore College.