How to Use Quotations Properly

Quotations, or quotes as many so fondly call them, are tricky to handle. Use them properly but sparingly and your essay becomes a more powerful instrument of communication. Sprinkle them generously all over your essay and it becomes merely a jumbled mess of quotations that don’t mean anything. This post is going to teach you how to use quotations the right way.

1. Figure out a purpose for each quotation.

Before you decide to add a quotation, ask yourself this question: What is this quotation supposed to do to my essay? If your answer is you need to stretch it out to meet the minimum word count, forget it. Your professor can sense it anyway. Any piece of work by another author that you want to embed into your essay should have a purpose. The most common is to make your claims more credible, but quotations are also useful to make an impactful opening and conclusion, inject some humor when appropriate and add some color.

2. Make each quotation a part of your essay.

Although quotations are the work of other authors, you have to make sure that they blend properly into your own work should you decide to use them. Look for ways to adequately introduce a quotation in your essay instead of simply inserting it somewhere it seems convenient. It is always recommended to cite your sources properly by at least indicating the author’s name and the title of the work from which you are quoting. At best, you should also add a brief summary of the quotation and the author’s credentials.

Here is an example:

Even Albert Einstein, the greatest mind of the 21st century couldn’t explain love when he said “How on earth are you ever going to explain in terms of chemistry and physics so important a biological phenomenon as first love?”

3. Explain each quotation.

A quotation in an essay cannot stand on its own. You need to support the existence of that quotation by fleshing it out and explaining how it is related to the point you want to make in the succeeding paragraph. Some phrases that could help you transition smoothly from a quotation to your own work are the following:

  • Clearly, Einstein believes that…
  • From what Einstein said, we can deduce the fact that…
  • Here, we see that Einstein thinks…
  • We can conclude that…
  • This statement clearly shows that Einstein agrees with…

4. Block long quotations.

Long quotations are especially delicate because they are quite a load for the readers. However, if you must use long quotations, block them. To do so means to separate them from the main paragraph and indent them one-half inch to the right. This lets the reader know that you are quoting another author and that the long piece of text he is reading is not your own. This is the standard guideline when it comes to quotations that are longer than three lines. However, your school may follow a separate set of guidelines for citing sources properly so always check with your professor.

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