1. What is the difference between quoting and paraphrasing?
When writing about your sources, you may either take the exact words from a document and place them between quote marks (“), or you may paraphrase the words in a document, in which case you do not put them in quotes.
To paraphrase a source (or part of a source) is to reproduce it in words and word orders substantially different from the original. When you paraphrase well, you keep the sense of the original but change the language, retaining possibly a few key words, but otherwise using your own words and sentence patterns. Often, the advantage of paraphrasing is to capture concisely the essence of a passage in your source that would be too long or uninteresting to quote verbatim, or is not important enough to your point to merit lengthy presentation.
To quote a source (or part of a source) is to reproduce it exactly. When you quote well, you keep both the sense and the language of the original, retaining its punctuation, its capitalization, its type face (i.e., roman or italic), and its spelling (indeed, even its misspelling). There are special rules for altering quoted material to fit properly in your sentences. We’ll get to these in a moment. Quoted material is advantageous in that it lends considerable authority to your argument, and often captures the spirit or style of your topic in ways paraphrasing does not. Still, most students rely too heavily on quoted material. Use it only when it adds something tangible to your prose.
When taking notes, you must be very careful to make it clear whether you are quoting or paraphrasing. Either paraphrase or quote, but do nothing in between. These are your only options. Anything between the quotes must appear exactly as it does in the original. Do not put paraphrased material in quote marks. As a rough guide, if you copy more than three words in a row from a source, you are quoting: either put them in quote marks or paraphrase them. If you present the text of a source without putting it in quotes, you mis-represent yourself and commit plagiarism; if you put paraphrased material in quotes you mis-represent the text and commit plagiarism.
Note: To “quote” is to make a quotation, and hence a verb; a “quotation” is the thing between the quote-marks, and hence a noun. There is no such thing as simply a “quote.”
2. What should I quote?
Primary sources are the best candidates for direct quotation. Avoid quoting from secondary sources. You can summarize important points from a secondary source by paraphrasing, but be sure to provide a citation.
You may also use quotation marks to distance yourself from others’ language, as in: Imperialists spoke of “civilising the poor.” Avoid quotation marks as a way of apologizing for your own word choice, slang, clichés –it is better to find the appropriate words.
3. How do I integrate quoted material into my prose?
a. It is difficult to integrate quoted material into a sentence and maintain a grammatically correct sentence. A sentence with a quotation in it must read as a grammatically correct sentence; quotations do not change the rules of sentence structure. Test for this by imagining the sentence without quote marks; if it is not grammatically correct when you imagine the quote marks absent, it needs to be re-written.
b. You should never quote material without integrating it into your own writing. A sentence can never consist entirely of a quote. Never just “plop” a quote in, as in: The conditions freedwomen lived under were very harsh. “My master kept us without food and water for days.” Men, on the other hand, had a better time of it.
c. Introduce the speaker of the quotation. In the example above, the reader has no idea who is speaking. A simple phrase suffices. One former slave testified, “My master kept us without food and water for days.”
d. More than one sentence should never appear between two quote marks. It is better to quote parts of sentences, integrating them into your own prose. One white mistress lamented the loss of a slave who ran away. She wished for his return, not because he was a valued worker, but because of “the moral effect” his capture would have on the potential runaway slaves still on her plantation.
e. Avoid “block” quotes. Most student papers (under fifteen pages) are too short to permit block quotes. Besides, most readers do not read them. Finally, they permit the author to avoid analysis. If you must use block quotations, indent on both sides of the quotation, and single- space. Block quote no less than two sentences, or three lines of text, whichever is longer.
f. It is often difficult to integrate the quote into your prose and retain its original meaning. Be sure not to let vital bits of information slide by the wayside when quoting. Remember, your reader is not looking at your sources as she reads.
g. Sic: Because you must quote your source exactly, you may find yourself quoting mis-spellings or statements which seem so outrageous as to belie credulity. Often, authors will insert thephrase [sic] (which means “thus it is”) in or immediately after such quoted material to denote to readers that the error appears in the original. Scholarly opinion differs on this point, but for our purposes, you should not use “sic” when quoting from historical sources; the prevalence of alternate spellings and usages quickly would clutter your paper with “sic.” Use it only when quoting secondaries, which should rarely if ever be done in the body of the text (but may be done in your notes).
h. Using brackets: Remember that a sentence with a quotation must be a grammatically correct sentence when you imagine the quote marks absent. Sometimes, in order to do this, or to clarify the meaning of a quotation, you may think a quotation requires extra words or phrases. These are usually placed in brackets within the quotation to denote added material that does not appear in the original, as in:
The editors of Freedom’s Journal denied vigorously the contention that “our race alone are to remain in this [degraded] state, while knowledge and civilization are shedding their enlivening rays over the rest of the human family.”
Most often, however, additional words placed in brackets are unnecessary. Consider the following sentence, which uses brackets unnecessarily, and a re-written version which does not.
Original: One ex-slave described just how slave holders planned their breeding, as she explained, “[The slave holders] would buy a fine girl and a fine man and just put them together like cattle; they would not stop to marry them.” [This sentence is also a run-on sentence because of the comma splice after “breeding”; not that it would not be grammatically correct if the quote marks were removed.]
Re-written: One ex-slave described just how slave holders planned their breeding. She explained that slave holders “would buy a fine girl and a fine man and just put them together like cattle; they would not stop to marry them.”
4. How much should I quote? No more than one-quarter (better is one-fifth) of your paper should be quoted material. In individual quotations, always quote the least amount of material possible. By omitting the superfluous, retain the impact of the quotes you include.
5. How do I incorporate punctuation into quotations? Periods and commas always fall within the last quote mark. Semi-colons usually fall without. Question and exclamation marks may fall within or without, depending on the text.
Why did Jefferson claim America held “the wolf by the ears”?
“When I am done with you, you will live no more!” the master cried as he beat the slave.
6. How do quote marks work when I’m quoting someone who is quoting something? Imbedded (or “nested”) quotations are denoted with single quote marks instead of the normal double quote marks. According to Chalmers Johnson, “medieval Europe passed through its ‘age of discontent’ after the fall of the Angevin empire.”
7. Eliminate superfluous elements of quotations with elliptical periods (“ellipses”).
Whenever you incorporate a non-contiguous portion of a text into a quotation, denote the omission with elliptical periods. An ellipses is three periods, each with a single space between them. You should never omit portions of a sentence so as to alter the meaning of a text, solely to enhance the meaning of a quotation by eliminating confusing or extraneous words.
Original quote: “Brethren, arise, arise! Strike for your lives and liberties. Now is the day and the hour. Let every slave throughout the land do this, and the days of slavery are numbered.
You cannot be more oppressed than you have been — you cannot suffer greater cruelties than you have already. Rather die freemen than live to be slaves. Remember that you are FOUR MILLIONS! It is in your power so to torment the God-cursed slaveholders that they will be glad to let you go free. If the scale was turned, and black men were the masters and white men the slaves, every destructive agent and element would be employed to lay the oppressor low.”2
Removing the middle of a sentence: Garnet’s pamphlet urged his enslaved brethen to consider their advantages and rise up in bloody revolt. “Brethren, arise, arise! Strike for your lives and liberties. . . . Remember that you are FOUR MILLIONS!”
Here, I used ellipses to omit material I believed lacked relevance to the task at hand. The result is concise, yet does no violence to the meaning of the original passage.
Quoting a contiguous portion of a sentence: Speaking to slaves, Garnet wrote that they should resist so violently against the depredations of their slaveholders “that they will be glad to let you go free.” (Here, ellipses were not necessary, as the portion I quoted was contiguous; I did not need ellipses to denote that the quote was the end of a larger sentence.)
Ellipses and commas: Garnet’s pamphlet seemed to castigate slave men for a troubling lack of courage. Implying that whites did not share this failing, he argued, “if the scale was turned, . . . every destructive agent and element would be employed to lay the oppressor low.” (Note that I retained the comma after “turned” but not before “every.” Also, I provided a space between the comma after “turned” and the first period of the ellipses.)
2Henry Highland Garnet, A Memorial Discourse; by Rev. Henry Highland Garnet (Philadelphia, 1865), 51, in Herbert Aptheker, ed., A Documentary History of the Negro People in the United States (New York: Citadel Press, 1951), I, 232.
Ellipses with sentence endings: Garnet told the slaves to “strike for your lives and liberties. . . . Let every slave throughout the land do this, and the days of slavery are numbered.” (Note that I put a period immediately after “liberties” [to denote the end of the sentence], then put an ellipses [after a normal space], the added two spaces after the ellipses before moving on to the next sentence [because two spaces always separate two sentences].)
8. What do I do when the original author used funny type or mis-spells words?
Remember, proper quotation style means preserving the original text to the greatest degree possible.
To the best of your ability, reproduce the original text as exactly it appears. This means reproducing italics, underlining, and small capitals when they appear in the original. Because typewriters were so limited in reproducing text, it is acceptable to underline instead of italicize, and use large capitals instead of small capitals.
Some authors choose to italicize portions of a quote to emphasize them. Consequently, you may see phrases like “author’s emphasis,” or “emphasis in original” in footnotes. Emphasizing non- italicized material is an unacceptable short-cut to analyzing that material; instead, simply explain the important part of the quotation. Do not emphasize anything not originally italicized; consequently, you will not need phrases like “author’s emphasis” in your footnotes.
Archaic or foreign characters, like “æ,” may be rendered in Anglicized fashion, e.g., “ae.”
When an author mis-spells a word, or says something so outrageous that it may stretch the credulity of modern readers, it was customary to add the Latin “sic” in brackets. This word means “so,” and tells readers that what appears in a scholar’s rendition of the text was in fact what appeared in the original. Make it your rule to render all text as it originally appeared. This will obviate the need to use “sic,” which many readers find intrusive.
9. What about those brackets I see everyone using?
Quotations may never include material not in the original. But there are times when it seems necessary to add material to a quotation to make it understandable to the reader. It has become increasingly common journalistic practice to include such material inside brackets (“[ ]”). While at times the use of brackets may be necessary, the practice has gotten completely out of hand. Avoid using brackets! Often, they are a substitute for the real work of writing. Consider this reference to the writings of Harlem Renaissance philosopher Alain Locke, by Mia Bay3:
3Mia Bay, The White Image in the Black Mind: African-American Ideas about White People, 1830-1925 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), 199.
The “actual practical dominance” of this group would naturally lead it to “notions of superiority and also a very firm belief in superiority,” he observed. But they could be wrong, “as the Romans were when they succeeded in sapping and undermining Greek civilization [, to consider] their own civilization superior, when[,] in fact, [as in the case of the Romans,] we know that it was relatively inferior [to that of the conquered Greeks,] from the point of view of general civilization and culture.”
The use of such extensive brackets is intrusive and confusing. A little thought and some time re-working the passage would have yielded far more elegant results:
The “actual practical dominance” this group would naturally lead it to “notions of superiority and also a very firm belief in superiority,” he observed. The Romans, for example, had been wrong to consider “their own civilization superior” when they “succeeded in sapping and undermining Greek civilization”; Roman civilization, according to Locke, “was relatively inferior” to that of the conquered Greeks.