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Picking the right quote can elevate your ideas and enhance your credibility. However, if all the quote does is state the obvious or simply repeat common knowledge information (or matter-of-factly summarizes their “expert” opinion), your paper may appear humdrum (or worse). Your original work deserves original thinking in the supporting evidence shared via quotes, etc.Definition: A quote copies the exact words from your source material without change.

Definition: A quote copies the exact words from your source material without change. Maximum amount that can be used: Most institutions draw the line at 25%. This means that no more than 25% of your paper’s content can be quoted. Exceeding 25% quoted material is considered a form of

Maximum amount that can be used: Most institutions draw the line at 25%. This means that no more than 25% of your paper’s content can be quoted. Exceeding 25% quoted material is considered a form of plagiarism, because too much of the writing is not your original work. The ideas in the paper come across more like a patchwork quilt of recycled bits and pieces rather than a smoothly woven piece of cloth. To help stay below that limit, use the least amount of a quoted passage possible to support your point and develop the skill of paraphrasing or summarizing. For each quote that is used, strive for 20 words or less. Quotes over 40 words (4-5 lines or more) should be rare and must appear in block format. Long (block format) quotes are best reserved for copying sections from legal or official materials or for documenting passages from works being analyzed in your content (ex. books, short stories, lyrics, or poetry).

To help stay below that limit, use the least amount of a quoted passage possible to support your point and develop the skill of paraphrasing or summarizing. For each quote that is used, strive for 20 words or less. Quotes over 40 words (4-5 lines or more) should be rare and must appear in block format. Long (block format) quotes are best reserved for copying sections from legal or official materials or for documenting passages from works being analyzed in your content (ex. books, short stories, lyrics, or poetry).

Reasons for Quoting Primary Sources: (original words/work/research findings)

  • Validate main points being made in your paper.
  • Draw on the knowledge/wisdom of the original author or researcher.
  • Copy exact lines of literature.
  • Reproduce graphs, charts, and statistical data.

Reasons for Quoting Secondary Sources: (comments after the fact about original works)

  • Set up a statement of your own. (gather witness testimony) using subject matter expert reviews relevant to the topic at hand (ideas, expressions, or explanations of complex material).
  • Support a main point by sharing illustrations, examples, or relevant human interest stories that put a face to the subject matter.

How to Pick Them: Look for the core of what someone is communicating and drill down to specifics within any generalities that may be present. A good quote is like a good sound bite.

  1. Words and structure is unique, memorable, otherwise too useful to lose in a paraphrase.
  2. Directly relevant to your position point (argument/analysis). Example: Relates/explains factual information (data) in the clearest and most concise way possible. Features an idea you want to argue for/against. Example: Raises an important objection and to show it is not being misrepresented nor taken out of context.
  3. Features an idea you want to argue for/against. Example: Raises an important objection and to show it is not being misrepresented nor taken out of context.From a source that will strengthen your credibility.
  4. From a source that will strengthen your credibility.* AVOID quoting emotionally charged rhetoric as a general practice. They tend to make a piece sound and feel heavily biased and manipulative.

* AVOID quoting emotionally charged rhetoric as a general practice. They tend to make a piece sound and feel heavily biased and manipulative.

How To Use Them: A quote should always support your ideas, not the other way around. This is why they should not appear at the beginning of a paragraph where your topic sentence belongs. It makes it look like you lack confidence in your ideas by choosing to hide behind someone else. Neither should the quote be the last thing. The most important pieces in a sentence or a paragraph are typically found in the beginning or the end. This is based on natural human tendency to consider those positions as the strongest. It’s your paper so your ideas should be in those structurally strongest positions. Quotes are there to stand in the gaps to help you defend your position, prove your point, support your analysis, etc.

  1. State your purpose–the key idea or main point you intend to talk about.
  2. Insert the quote. *For a quick review on how to do that, see “Write with Respect”
  3. Explain the quote. Don’t assume the reason for using it is obvious to your reader. For every line of a source, expect to write 2-3 lines of your own analysis and explanation after it.

The better you understand your subject matter, the easier it will be to recognize what is quote-worthy. Knowledge also empowers you to use rather than abuse when incorporating quoted material into your paper.


This is Part 2 of the series: Better Quoting, Paraphrasing, and Summarizing.

Part 1: Write With Respect