Practice Quoting Sources In An Essay

This depends on what type of work you are writing, how you are using the borrowed material, and the expectations of your instructor.

First, you have to think about how you want to identify your sources. If your sources are very important to your ideas, you should mention the author and work in a sentence that introduces your citation. If, however, you are only citing the source to make a minor point, you may consider using parenthetical references, footnotes, or endnotes.

There are also different forms of citation for different disciplines. For example, when you cite sources in a psychology paper you would probably use a different form of citation than you might in a paper for an English class.

Finally, you should always consult your instructor to determine the form of citation appropriate for your paper. You can save a lot of time and energy simply by asking "How should I cite my sources," or "What style of citation should I use?" before you begin writing.

In the following sections, we will take you step-by-step through some general guidelines for citing sources.

Identifying Sources in the Body of Your Paper

The first time you cite a source, it is almost always a good idea to mention its author(s), title, and genre (book, article, or web page, etc.). If the source is central to your work, you may want to introduce it in a separate sentence or two, summarizing its importance and main ideas. But often you can just tag this information onto the beginning or end of a sentence. For example, the following sentence puts information about the author and work before the quotation:

Milan Kundera, in his book The Art of the Novel, suggests that “if the novel should really disappear, it will do so not because it has exhausted its powers but because it exists in a world grown alien to it.”

You may also want to describe the author(s) if they are not famous, or if you have reason to believe your reader does not know them. You should say whether they are economic analysts, artists, physicists, etc. If you do not know anything about the author, and cannot find any information, it is best to say where you found the source and why you believe it is credible and worth citing. For example,

In an essay presented at an Asian Studies conference held at Duke University, Sheldon Geron analyzes the relation of state, labor-unions, and small businesses in Japan between 1950s and 1980s.

If you have already introduced the author and work from which you are citing, and you are obviously referring to the same work, you probably don't need to mention them again. However, if you have cited other sources and then go back to one you had cited earlier, it is a good idea to mention at least the author's name again (and the work if you have referred to more than one by this author) to avoid confusion.

Quoting Material

What is Quoting?

Taking the exact words from an original source is called quoting. You should quote material when you believe the way the original author expresses an idea is the most effective means of communicating the point you want to make. If you want to borrow an idea from an author, but do not need his or her exact words, you should try paraphrasing instead of quoting.

How Often Should I Quote?

Most of the time, paraphrasing and summarizing your sources is sufficient (but remember that you still have to cite them!). If you think it’s important to quote something, an excellent rule of thumb is that for every line you quote, you should have at least two lines analyzing it.

How Do I Incorporate Quotations in My Paper?

Most of the time, you can just identify a source and quote from it, as in the first example above. Sometimes, however, you will need to modify the words or format of the quotation in order to fit in your paper. Whenever you change the original words of your source, you must indicate that you have done so. Otherwise, you would be claiming the original author used words that he or she did not use. But be careful not to change too many words! You could accidentally change the meaning of the quotation and falsely claim the author said something they did not.

For example, let's say you want to quote from the following passage in an essay called "United Shareholders of America," by Jacob Weisberg:

The citizen-investor serves his fellow citizens badly by his inclination to withdraw from the community. He tends to serve himself badly as well. He does so by focusing his pursuit of happiness on something that very seldom makes people happy in the way they expect it to.

When you quote, you generally want to be as concise as possible. Keep only the material that is strictly relevant to your own ideas. So here you would not want to quote the middle sentence, since it is repeated again in the more informative last sentence. However, just skipping it would not work -- the final sentence would not make sense without it. So, you have to change the wording a little bit. In order to do so, you will need to use some editing symbols. Your quotation might end up looking like this:

In his essay, “United Shareholders of America,” Jacob Weisberg insists that “The citizen-investor serves his fellow citizens badly by his inclination to withdraw from the community. He tends to serve himself badly... by focusing his pursuit of happiness on something that very seldom makes people happy in the way they expect it to.”


“He tends to serve himself focusing his pursuit of happiness on [money].”

The brackets around the word [money] indicate that you have substituted that word for other words the author used. To make a substitution this important, however, you had better be sure that [money] is what the final phrase meant -- if the author intentionally left it ambiguous, you would be significantly altering his meaning. That would make you guilty of fraudulent attribution. In this case, however, the paragraph following the one quoted explains that the author is referring to money, so it is okay.

As a general rule, it is okay to make minor grammatical and stylistic changes to make the quoted material fit in your paper, but it is not okay to significantly alter the structure of the material or its content.

Quoting within Quotes

When you have "embedded quotes," or quotations within quotations, you should switch from the normal quotation marks ("") to single quotation marks ('') to show the difference. For example, if an original passage by John Archer reads:

The Mountain Coyote has been described as a “wily” and “single-minded” predator by zoologist Lma Warner.

your quotation might look like this:

As John Archer explains, “The Mountain Coyote has been described as a 'wily' and 'single-minded' predator by zoologist Lma Warner.”

How Do I Include Long Quotes in My Paper?

The exact formatting requirements for long quotations differ depending on the citation style. In general, however, if you are quoting more than 3 lines of material, you should do the following:

  • change the font to one noticeably smaller (in a document that is mostly 12 point font, you should use a 10 point font, for example)
  • double indent the quotation -- that means adjusting the left and right margins so that they are about one inch smaller than the main body of your paper
  • if you have this option in your word-processor, "left-justify" the text. That means make it so that each line begins in the same place, creating a straight line on the left side of the quotation, while the right side is jagged
  • do NOT use quotation marks for the entire quotation -- the graphic changes you have made already (changing the font, double indenting, etc.) are enough to indicate that the material is quoted. For quotations within that quotation, use normal quotation marks, not single ones
  • you might want to skip 1.5 times the line-spacing you are using in the document before you begin the quotation and after it. This is optional and depends on the style preferred by your instructor

For example, a properly-formatted long quotation in a document might look like this:

Akutagawa complicates the picture of picture of himself as mere “reader on the verge of writing his own text,” by having his narrated persona actually finish authoring the work in wich he appears. In the forty-ninth segment of the text, entitled “A Stuffed Swan,” he writes:Using all of his remaining strength, he tried to write his autobiography. Yet it was not an easy task for him. This was due to his still lingering sense of pride and skepticism... After finishing “A Fool's Life,” he accidentally discovered a suffered swan in a used goods store. Although it stood with its head raised, even its yellowed wings had been eaten by insects. He thought of his entire life and felt tears and cruel laughter welling up inside. All that remained for him was madness or suicide.With this gesture Akutagawa ironizes the impossibility of truly writing the self by emphasizing the inevitable split that must occur between writing and written “self,” the Akutagawa still writing “A Fool's Life” cannot possibly be identical with the narrated persona which has finished the work.

Listing References

What's a Bibliography?

A bibliography is a list of all of the sources you have used in the process of researching your work. In general, a bibliography should include:

  • the authors' names
  • the titles of the works
  • the names and locations of the companies that published your copies of the sources
  • the dates your copies were published
  • the page numbers of your sources (if they are part of multi-source volumes)

OK, So What's an Annotated Bibliography?

An annotated bibliography is the same as a bibliography with one important difference: in an annotated bibliography, the bibliographic information is followed by a brief description of the content, quality, and usefulness of the source.

What Are Footnotes?

Footnotes are notes placed at the bottom of a page. They cite references or comment on a designated part of the text above it. For example, say you want to add an interesting comment to a sentence you have written, but the comment is not directly related to the argument of your paragraph. In this case, you could add the symbol for a footnote. Then, at the bottom of the page you could reprint the symbol and insert your comment. Here is an example:

This is an illustration of a footnote.1 The number “1” at the end of the previous sentence corresponds with the note below. See how it fits in the body of the text?

1 At the bottom of the page you can insert your comments about the sentence preceding the footnote.

When your reader comes across the footnote in the main text of your paper, he or she could look down at your comments right away, or else continue reading the paragraph and read your comments at the end. Because this makes it convenient for your reader, most citation styles require that you use either footnotes or endnotes in your paper. Some, however, allow you to make parenthetical references (author, date) in the body of your work. See our section on citation styles for more information.

Footnotes are not just for interesting comments, however. Sometimes they simply refer to relevant sources -- they let your reader know where certain material came from or where they can look for other sources on the subject. To decide whether you should cite your sources in footnotes or in the body of your paper, you should ask your instructor or see our section on citation styles.

Where Does the Little Footnote Mark Go?

Whenever possible, put the footnote at the end of a sentence, immediately following the period or whatever punctuation mark completes that sentence. Skip two spaces after the footnote before you begin the next sentence. If you must include the footnote in the middle of a sentence for the sake of clarity, or because the sentence has more than one footnote (try to avoid this!), try to put it at the end of the most relevant phrase, after a comma or other punctuation mark. Otherwise, put it right at the end of the most relevant word. If the footnote is not at the end of a sentence, skip only one space after it.

What's the Difference between Footnotes and Endnotes?

The only real difference is placement -- footnotes appear at the bottom of the relevant page, while endnotes all appear at the end of your document. If you want your reader to read your notes right away, footnotes are more likely to get your reader's attention. Endnotes, on the other hand, are less intrusive and will not interrupt the flow of your paper.

If I Cite Sources in the Footnotes (or Endnotes), How's that Different from a Bibliography?

Sometimes you may be asked to include these -- especially if you have used a parenthetical style of citation. A "works cited" page is a list of all the works from which you have borrowed material. Your reader may find this more convenient than footnotes or endnotes because he or she will not have to wade through all of the comments and other information in order to see the sources from which you drew your material. A "works consulted" page is a complement to a "works cited" page, listing all of the works you used, whether they were useful or not.

Isn't a "Works Consulted" Page the Same as a "Bibliography," Then?

Well, yes. The title is different because "works consulted" pages are meant to complement "works cited" pages, and bibliographies may list other relevant sources in addition to those mentioned in footnotes or endnotes. Choosing to title your bibliography "Works Consulted" or "Selected Bibliography" may help specify the relevance of the sources listed.

For more information on documenting sources, see Purdue University's Online Writing Lab.

Contributors:Dana Lynn Driscoll, Allen Brizee.

This handout is intended to help you become more comfortable with the uses of and distinctions among quotations, paraphrases, and summaries. This handout compares and contrasts the three terms, gives some pointers, and includes a short excerpt that you can use to practice these skills.

Quoting, Paraphrasing, and Summarizing

This handout is intended to help you become more comfortable with the uses of and distinctions among quotations, paraphrases, and summaries. This handout compares and contrasts the three terms, gives some pointers, and includes a short excerpt that you can use to practice these skills.

What are the differences among quoting, paraphrasing, and summarizing?

These three ways of incorporating other writers' work into your own writing differ according to the closeness of your writing to the source writing.

Quotations must be identical to the original, using a narrow segment of the source. They must match the source document word for word and must be attributed to the original author.

Paraphrasing involves putting a passage from source material into your own words. A paraphrase must also be attributed to the original source. Paraphrased material is usually shorter than the original passage, taking a somewhat broader segment of the source and condensing it slightly.

Summarizing involves putting the main idea(s) into your own words, including only the main point(s). Once again, it is necessary to attribute summarized ideas to the original source. Summaries are significantly shorter than the original and take a broad overview of the source material.

Why use quotations, paraphrases, and summaries?

Quotations, paraphrases, and summaries serve many purposes. You might use them to:

  • Provide support for claims or add credibility to your writing
  • Refer to work that leads up to the work you are now doing
  • Give examples of several points of view on a subject
  • Call attention to a position that you wish to agree or disagree with
  • Highlight a particularly striking phrase, sentence, or passage by quoting the original
  • Distance yourself from the original by quoting it in order to cue readers that the words are not your own
  • Expand the breadth or depth of your writing

Writers frequently intertwine summaries, paraphrases, and quotations. As part of a summary of an article, a chapter, or a book, a writer might include paraphrases of various key points blended with quotations of striking or suggestive phrases as in the following example:

     In his famous and influential work The Interpretation of Dreams, Sigmund Freud argues that dreams are the "royal road to the unconscious" (page #), expressing in coded imagery the dreamer's unfulfilled wishes through a process known as the "dream-work" (page #). According to Freud, actual but unacceptable desires are censored internally and subjected to coding through layers of condensation and displacement before emerging in a kind of rebus puzzle in the dream itself (page #).

How to use quotations, paraphrases, and summaries

Practice summarizing the essay found here, using paraphrases and quotations as you go. It might be helpful to follow these steps:

  • Read the entire text, noting the key points and main ideas.
  • Summarize in your own words what the single main idea of the essay is.
  • Paraphrase important supporting points that come up in the essay.
  • Consider any words, phrases, or brief passages that you believe should be quoted directly.

There are several ways to integrate quotations into your text. Often, a short quotation works well when integrated into a sentence. Longer quotations can stand alone. Remember that quoting should be done only sparingly; be sure that you have a good reason to include a direct quotation when you decide to do so. You'll find guidelines for citing sources and punctuating citations at our documentation guide pages.

Contributors:Dana Lynn Driscoll, Allen Brizee.

This handout is intended to help you become more comfortable with the uses of and distinctions among quotations, paraphrases, and summaries. This handout compares and contrasts the three terms, gives some pointers, and includes a short excerpt that you can use to practice these skills.

Paraphrase: Write It in Your Own Words

Paraphrasing is one way to use a text in your own writing without directly quoting source material. Anytime you are taking information from a source that is not your own, you need to specify where you got that information.

A paraphrase is...

  • Your own rendition of essential information and ideas expressed by someone else, presented in a new form.
  • One legitimate way (when accompanied by accurate documentation) to borrow from a source.
  • A more detailed restatement than a summary, which focuses concisely on a single main idea.

Paraphrasing is a valuable skill because...

  • It is better than quoting information from an undistinguished passage.
  • It helps you control the temptation to quote too much.
  • The mental process required for successful paraphrasing helps you to grasp the full meaning of the original.

6 Steps to Effective Paraphrasing

  1. Reread the original passage until you understand its full meaning.
  2. Set the original aside, and write your paraphrase on a note card.
  3. Jot down a few words below your paraphrase to remind you later how you envision using this material. At the top of the note card, write a key word or phrase to indicate the subject of your paraphrase.
  4. Check your rendition with the original to make sure that your version accurately expresses all the essential information in a new form.
  5. Use quotation marks to identify any unique term or phraseology you have borrowed exactly from the source.
  6. Record the source (including the page) on your note card so that you can credit it easily if you decide to incorporate the material into your paper.

Some examples to compare

The original passage:

Students frequently overuse direct quotation in taking notes, and as a result they overuse quotations in the final [research] paper. Probably only about 10% of your final manuscript should appear as directly quoted matter. Therefore, you should strive to limit the amount of exact transcribing of source materials while taking notes. Lester, James D. Writing Research Papers. 2nd ed., 1976, pp. 46-47.

A legitimate paraphrase:

In research papers students often quote excessively, failing to keep quoted material down to a desirable level. Since the problem usually originates during note taking, it is essential to minimize the material recorded verbatim (Lester 46-47).

An acceptable summary:

Students should take just a few notes in direct quotation from sources to help minimize the amount of quoted material in a research paper (Lester 46-47).

A plagiarized version:

Students often use too many direct quotations when they take notes, resulting in too many of them in the final research paper. In fact, probably only about 10% of the final copy should consist of directly quoted material. So it is important to limit the amount of source material copied while taking notes.

A note about plagiarism: This example has been classed as plagiarism, in part, because of its failure to deploy any citation. Plagiarism is a serious offense in the academic world. However, we acknowledge that plagiarism is a difficult term to define; that its definition may be contextually sensitive; and that not all instances of plagiarism are created equal—that is, there are varying “degrees of egregiousness” for different cases of plagiarism. 

Contributors:Dana Lynn Driscoll, Allen Brizee.

This handout is intended to help you become more comfortable with the uses of and distinctions among quotations, paraphrases, and summaries. This handout compares and contrasts the three terms, gives some pointers, and includes a short excerpt that you can use to practice these skills.

Sample Essay for Summarizing, Paraphrasing, and Quoting

The following is a sample essay you can practice quoting, paraphrasing, and summarizing. Examples of each task are provided at the end of the essay for further reference.

Here is the citation for Sipher's essay:

Sipher, Roger. “So That Nobody Has to Go to School If They Don't Want To.” The New York Times, 19 Dec. 1977, p. 31.

So That Nobody Has To Go To School If They Don't Want To

by Roger Sipher

A decline in standardized test scores is but the most recent indicator that American education is in trouble.

One reason for the crisis is that present mandatory-attendance laws force many to attend school who have no wish to be there. Such children have little desire to learn and are so antagonistic to school that neither they nor more highly motivated students receive the quality education that is the birthright of every American.

The solution to this problem is simple: Abolish compulsory-attendance laws and allow only those who are committed to getting an education to attend.

This will not end public education. Contrary to conventional belief, legislators enacted compulsory-attendance laws to legalize what already existed. William Landes and Lewis Solomon, economists, found little evidence that mandatory-attendance laws increased the number of children in school. They found, too, that school systems have never effectively enforced such laws, usually because of the expense involved.

There is no contradiction between the assertion that compulsory attendance has had little effect on the number of children attending school and the argument that repeal would be a positive step toward improving education. Most parents want a high school education for their children. Unfortunately, compulsory attendance hampers the ability of public school officials to enforce legitimate educational and disciplinary policies and thereby make the education a good one.

Private schools have no such problem. They can fail or dismiss students, knowing such students can attend public school. Without compulsory attendance, public schools would be freer to oust students whose academic or personal behavior undermines the educational mission of the institution.

Has not the noble experiment of a formal education for everyone failed? While we pay homage to the homily, "You can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink," we have pretended it is not true in education.

Ask high school teachers if recalcitrant students learn anything of value. Ask teachers if these students do any homework. Quite the contrary, these students know they will be passed from grade to grade until they are old enough to quit or until, as is more likely, they receive a high school diploma. At the point when students could legally quit, most choose to remain since they know they are likely to be allowed to graduate whether they do acceptable work or not.

Abolition of archaic attendance laws would produce enormous dividends.

First, it would alert everyone that school is a serious place where one goes to learn. Schools are neither day-care centers nor indoor street corners. Young people who resist learning should stay away; indeed, an end to compulsory schooling would require them to stay away.

Second, students opposed to learning would not be able to pollute the educational atmosphere for those who want to learn. Teachers could stop policing recalcitrant students and start educating.

Third, grades would show what they are supposed to: how well a student is learning. Parents could again read report cards and know if their children were making progress.

Fourth, public esteem for schools would increase. People would stop regarding them as way stations for adolescents and start thinking of them as institutions for educating America's youth.

Fifth, elementary schools would change because students would find out early they had better learn something or risk flunking out later. Elementary teachers would no longer have to pass their failures on to junior high and high school.

Sixth, the cost of enforcing compulsory education would be eliminated. Despite enforcement efforts, nearly 15 percent of the school-age children in our largest cities are almost permanently absent from school.

Communities could use these savings to support institutions to deal with young people not in school. If, in the long run, these institutions prove more costly, at least we would not confuse their mission with that of schools.

Schools should be for education. At present, they are only tangentially so. They have attempted to serve an all-encompassing social function, trying to be all things to all people. In the process they have failed miserably at what they were originally formed to accomplish.

Example Summary, Paraphrase, and Quotation from the Essay:

Example summary: Roger Sipher makes his case for getting rid of compulsory-attendance laws in primary and secondary schools with six arguments. These fall into three groups—first that education is for those who want to learn and by including those that don't want to learn, everyone suffers. Second, that grades would be reflective of effort and elementary school teachers wouldn't feel compelled to pass failing students. Third, that schools would both save money and save face with the elimination of compulsory-attendance laws.

Example paraphrase of the essay's conclusion: Roger Sipher concludes his essay by insisting that schools have failed to fulfill their primary duty of education because they try to fill multiple social functions (par. 17).

Example quotation: According to Roger Sipher, a solution to the perceived crisis of American education is to "Abolish compulsory-attendance laws and allow only those who are committed to getting an education to attend" (par. 3).

One thought on “Practice Quoting Sources In An Essay

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *