How to Use Quotes Effectively

 

Most, if not all, of your college professors will require you to use research material as a vital component of your writing.  However, this process is not as simple as cutting and pasting sentences (or even worse, paragraphs) from the original texts into your essay.  You need to do more than just parrot information; simple cutting and pasting resorts in an incoherent flow of information in which the diction becomes nearly schizophrenic—literally, a confusion of voices.  Technically, an isolated quotation is called a “free-standing quote.”  It is essential, therefore, for you to integrate quotations into your writing so that the essay flows as smoothly as possible. 

 

Let’s say you have to write an essay on creativity for your Introduction to Psychology course, and you have decided to make creative writing your focus.  While you were researching, you came across a certain quote that you feel would work effectively in a paragraph in which you analyze the relationship between creativity and perceptiveness. 

 

Before you try to place the quote in your essay, you need to understand two things: what the quote literally means and how the quote will fit with the context of your paragraph and essay.  The quote will not help your essay if you are unsure of its specific meaning, so be sure to understand any complex vocabulary or ideas.  Second, the placement of quotes should not be haphazard; you should have a definite, specific purpose for placing each quote.  Without such a purpose, your essay will seem random, a quality  successful writing does not possess.

 

Here is an original quote and three ways to incorporate it into your text.

 

Being a good poet makes you a good psychologist, it is suggested, one capable of “profound insight,” but being a good psychologist doesn’t seem to make people good poets. 

 


 

1.  Use a simple introductory phrase.

 

According to Adam Phillips, the former Principal Child Psychotherapist at Charing Cross Hospital in London and the author of many influential books on psychoanalysis, “being a good poet makes you a good psychologist […] but being a good psychologist doesn’t seem to make people good poets” (4).  [MLA]

 

According to Phillips (2001), “being a good poet makes you a good psychologist […] but being a good psychologist doesn’t seem to make people good poets” (p. 4). [APA]

 

Here we’ve used a simple “according to” phrase to introduce the quote, and we’ve used ellipses with brackets to use part of quote that we may find most emphatic.  Note the ellipses are in brackets.  Any change you make to the original quote, changes of verb tense, capitalization, etc, need to be bracketed.  Also, you do not need to introduce or end your quotes with ellipses; they are only used with quotes to indicate omitted information in the middle.  In addition to citing our source, we have also qualified our author.  Rather than just providing the name, we have provided relevant context, which strengthens our essay by providing credibility. 

 


2.  Use an independent clause and a colon.

 

Creativity is ripe with paradox.  For example, artists often have a complex understanding of human nature while those who have studied  human nature often have no artistic ability: “Being a good poet makes you a good psychologist, it is suggested, one capable of ‘profound insight,’ but being a good psychologist doesn’t seem to make people good poets” (Phillips 4).  [MLA]

 

Creativity is ripe with paradox.  For example, artists often have a complex understanding of human nature while those who have studied  human nature often have no artistic ability: “Being a good poet makes you a good psychologist, it is suggested, one capable of ‘profound insight,’ but being a good psychologist doesn’t seem to make people good poets” (Phillips, 2001, p 4).  [APA]

 

The key here is to make sure you have a complete sentence (independent clause) preceding the quote.  If you do not have an independent clause before the quote, the sentence is a fragment.

 


3.  Incorporate the quote into the context of your sentence.

 

While “being a good poet” may turn an otherwise uneducated person into “a good psychologist,” the authors of many scholarly texts would not be able to craft a metaphor if their lives depended on it (Phillips 4).  [MLA]

 

While “being a good poet” may turn an otherwise uneducated person into “a good psychologist,” the authors of many scholarly texts would not be able to craft a metaphor if their lives depended on it (Phillips, 2001, p 4).  [APA]

 

 

 

This technique is the most sophisticated, but it also has potential for mishap: be sure to make all your verb tenses and pronouns consistent.  If the quote uses a plural verb while your sentence has a singular subject, your sentence will be incorrect grammatically.  Either use brackets to change certain parts of the original quote, or change your sentence to match the quote.  Either way, consistency is the goal.

 

 


 

Those are three different ways in incorporating quotations into the flow of your essay (thus avoiding the weakness of free-standing quotes).  Which of the three ways is the best?  A well-written documented essay will have examples of all three types, depending on the context of the quote.

 

You should also be aware of block quotes.  Any quote that fills more than three lines of your paper needs to be offset (blocked) from the rest of your essay. 

 

As a final note, always remember to cite the quotes correctly with parenthetical citations and a works cited page.

 

 

Phillips, Adam.  “Poetry and Psychoanalysis.”  Promises, Promises: Essays on Psychoanalysis and Literature.  New York: Basic, 2001. 1-34.  [MLA]

 

Philips, A. (2001).  Poetry and psychoanalysis.  Promises, promises: Essays on psychoanalysis and literature (pp 1-34). New York: Basic.  [APA]