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Incorporating Direct Quotes

When you use quoted material in your work, your first concerns must be quoting accurately and citing appropriately to avoid plagiarism. However, accomplishing those tasks does not mean that your work is complete. Using direct quotes also requires you to incorporate someone else’s language and ideas into your own.

Many students new to using direct quotes use sentences from their sources as complete sentences in their own work. For example, a student might write:

Farm animals are common in nursery rhymes. “Mary had a little lamb whose fleece was white as snow.”

The student has found an example of the observation she is making about farm animals, but she has left it to her reader to make the connection. Her writing doesn’t flow well, because the quote from “Mary Had a Little Lamb” was not written to be a part of her paper, but rather a part of a nursery rhyme in which it fits perfectly. She’s also made it difficult to include any other relevant evidence or ideas, because she hasn’t created a construction that makes the relationship between idea and evidence clear. A better use of the quote would be the following:

From Mary’s “little lamb whose fleece was white as snow” to the cow that jumped over the moon, farm animals are common features of nursery rhymes.

Now the student can move on from simply making the observation about farm animals in nursery rhymes (something most of us already know) to telling her reader why the observation matters. Her writing flows better and she’s made a more powerful connection between evidence and observation.

Imagine your paper is a big puzzle comprised of many pieces. A good number of the pieces can be “borrowed” from other puzzles (your sources), but even those will have to be modified if they are to blend seamlessly with your new puzzle. Part of that modification is surrounding the borrowed pieces with your own language and observations. When you make effective transitions between your ideas and the supporting ideas of others, you’re creating a good flow for your paper.

Of course, incorporating quotes isn’t just about placement. You may also need to modify the quote itself in order to preserve meaning or to make the quote work with the grammar of your own sentence. This could mean changing a capital letter to lowercase, replacing a pronoun with its antecedent, or changing the tense of a verb. When you need to make such a change, use [square brackets] to indicate that you have modified the quote from the original.

For example, in the original source the sentence is:

“In a relatively short period of time, automotive manufacturers have seen the cartridge playback emerge as one of its strongest selling accessories.”

The final sentence as it appears in your paper might look like this:

Their rapid growth began with car manufacturers citing “the cartridge playback… as one of [the automobile industry’s] strongest selling accessories” (Shemel 92).

You may find that you want to quote a section of text that also contains some material irrelevant to your point. Rather than quoting it all and expecting your reader to figure out what’s important, you can use an ellipsis (…) to indicate that you have left out some of the original quote.

Here David has taken out a sentence that was giving examples that were not needed in his paper.

The beauty of the blog community and other such means of communication is that buzz is “fueled by individual, authentic voices and relationships between people… No one person is in charge of digital discovery” (Jennings 5).

Tips for Direct Quotes

Whenever you are quoting, keep in mind that any material you pull directly from a source was not written with your paper in mind. You have to do the work to make the quote blend with your unique voice.

  • Use direct quotes as parts of your own sentences, never as sentences by themselves.
  • Connect direct quotes to your own ideas with transitions.
  • Use square brackets to indicate changes you have made for flow or grammatical structure.
  • Use an ellipsis to indicate omission of irrelevant material from a direct quote.

The excerpt from Blair Cross’ paper is a good example of effective incorporation of quoted material. Notice how Blair’s language helps the reader understand the significance of the quotes and builds flow. Although she quotes extensively, the overall effect is that the passage “sounds like Blair” because she has balanced quoted material with her own words.

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