Using quotations

Direct quotes are used when you want to copy text exactly from a source.  This is when you use the exact words of an author and place them in inverted commas: e.g.,  according to Chief Seattle, ‘Man does not weave the web of life. He is merely a strand of it. Whatever he does to the web he does to himself’.

Direct quotes are commonly used:

  • when you want to use a famous or well-known statement, e.g. ‘Ask not what your country can do for you … ‘
  • when you want to use an authoritative voice in your own writing by using the exact words of an expert
  • to introduce an author’s position you may wish to discuss
  • when you want to prove/disprove someone said something
  • when you want to capture the entire mood or aim of an article or book, e.g. an epigraph.

How much can I quote?

Keep direct quotes to a minimum as your lecturers want to see how you have interpreted and expressed the information yourself. You do this  through paraphrasing and summarising. It’s easy to use the exact words of someone, and a well chosen quote in an essay can be a good thing. Paraphrasing and summarising, by contrast, is a lot harder, yet this what you are being assessed on. Therefore always paraphrase and summarise in preference to quoting.

The extent to which you are able to use direct quotations depends on discipline and level of study. Language rich subjects like English Literature tend to quote more than other discipline areas, e.g., Law, Commerce and the sciences, and even more than other humanities disciplines. If you were writing an essay on Yeats’ poetry or Shakespeare’s plays, you would need to quote quite a lot.  It is permissible to quote a lot in a large documents too, e.g., a PhD thesis, compared to an average-length essay or report. But these are rare cases.

There is no minimum guide for the length and extent of quotations, but as a very general rule, try to use no more than one three-line quote in an average-length essay. The rest of your source material should be paraphrased, and this should be integrated with your own thinking on the topic.

How to quote

Copy the sentence/s exactly, even if there are spelling mistakes or other errors or omissions in the original text. If you want your reader to know, say, that the spelling error is from the original source, use the Latin abbreviation [sic] in square brackets immediately after the spelling error. ‘Sic’ is short for sic erat scriptum which means ‘thus in the original’.  This is used to draw the readers attention to a mistake or omission in the original text. Alternatively, (sic) in parenthesis could be placed after the completed quote. Note that the word sic is in italics but the brackets are not.

Indicate the exact words you are attributing to another author by putting quote marks—also known as inverted commas—around their words. Take care to check whether your citation style specifies ‘single quote marks’ or “double quote marks”.

Inserting quotes within your writing always requires you to cite the source of the quote. This is done according to the particular in-text referencing rules of your chosen citation style (e.g., APA, Chicago/Turabian, Australian Harvard, etc.).

Refer to the online referencing tool, FedCite, for the specifics of your chosen citation style.

Block quotes

Block quotes are used infrequently in academic assessments.

It is preferable to paraphrase and summarise the material you wish to make reference to in your writing, as it demonstrates your understanding of the content. Generally, block text formatting is used when you wish to include more than 40 words as a quote. The selection of text is indented from the left margin and does not use inverted commas.

However, each referencing style has slightly different requirements for using quotations, so be sure to check the details in your course description.

Adding text

If you need to add some words to a quote, e.g., to provide context or to make the grammar match that of your own text, placed the extra text between square brackets [ ] to show they are not part of the original quote. This is called interpolation. For example:

“When he [the investigator] heard about it, action was taken.”

Reducing text

A quote can be reduced in length through the use of ellipses …

For example:

both direct and derived rapport, was the most successful of the strategies at converting visitorsinto participants who completed questionnaires.” (Temple & Brown 2011, p. 13)

Again, it is important to check the specific requirements of the citation style you are using.

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