For authors whose primary language does not include English, the incorrect use of quotation marks can confuse them. Quotation marks can be used to indicate that the text was taken word-for-word from another source, to draw attention to an important phrase or word, or to use a technical term.
There are two types of quotes: “run-in” and “separated by block text.” There are different styles of punctuation depending on the country, style guide, subject matter, and the type of quotations. These examples will show you how to use quotation marks in academic writing. Continue reading for more information about Penn Book’s “How to Write Quotes“.
What quotation handout is about?
Quotations can be a valuable tool for adding new perspectives and evidence to your story if used well. Quotations can be distracting from your argument and clutter your text if they are not used effectively. This guide will help you make smart decisions about when and how to quote.
How To Write Quotes?
At strategically chosen moments, use quotations. Teachers will likely have told you to give as much evidence to support your thesis as possible. However, quoting your arguments will not help you. Your original ideas should be the majority of your paper. It’s your paper. Quotations are not the only type of evidence. Well-balanced papers might also include paraphrases, data, and statistics. The conventions of your discipline or the audience you are writing for will influence the types of evidence you use. Papers that analyze literature might rely heavily upon direct quotations, while papers related to the social sciences may use more data, paraphrasing, and statistics.
Discussion of specific arguments and ideas
Sometimes you have to quote the ideas of others to have a clear and accurate discussion. Let’s say you wish to challenge John Doe’s statement about the history of America.
- “At the beginning of World War Two, almost all Americans assumed the war would end quickly.”
If you feel it is particularly important to counter this claim, you may want to quote the portion of the statement you disagree with and start a dialog between John Doe and you.
- Historian John Doe has argued that in 1941 “almost all Americans assumed the war would end quickly” (Doe 223). Yet during the first six months of U.S. involvement, the wives and mothers of soldiers often noted in their diaries their fear that the war would drag on for years.
Give more weight to an authoritative source on your topic.
Sometimes you will want to emphasize the words of an authoritative source or important information on your topic. Imagine that you were writing an essay on the different lives of male slaves and female slaves in America’s South. Harriet Jacobs’s narrative, a former slave, is one of your most intriguing sources. You might then want to use some of Jacobs’s words.
- Harriet Jacobs, a former slave from North Carolina, published an autobiographical slave narrative in 1861. She exposed the hardships of both male and female slaves but ultimately concluded that “slavery is terrible for men, but it is far more terrible for women.”
Jacobs provides a critical first-hand view of slavery in this example. Her words are worthy of more exposure than any paraphrase.
Harriet A. Jacobs, Incidents In the Life of a Freed Girl: Jacobs is cited. Jean Fagan Yellin (Cambridge, Harvard University Press 1987).
Analyzing the language used by others.
This is most common in literature and linguistics courses. However, you may also find yourself writing about language use in history or social science classes. You will need to quote people who use language if that is your main topic.
Some topics that might need to be frequently quoted include:
- Southern colloquial expressions in William Faulkner’s Light in August
- Ms. and the creation of a language of female empowerment
- A comparison of three British poets and their use of rhyme
Spice up your prose.
You may want to cite a source that uses vivid language to add variety to your prose. However, all quotations must be closely related to your topic and argument. You should not use a quote solely for its literary merits.
Here’s an example of a quote that adds style:
- President Calvin Coolidge’s tendency to fall asleep became legendary. As H. L. Mencken commented in the American Mercury in 1933, “Nero fiddled, but Coolidge only snored.”
How do I set up and follow up a quotation?
After you have carefully chosen the quotations you wish to use, it is time to incorporate those quotations into your text. The words that follow and precede a quotation are equally important. Each quote can be thought of as the sandwich filling: while it might taste good on its own, it is messy to eat with no bread. Your words can be the “bread” that allows readers to digest each quote easily. Here are four guidelines to help you set up and follow up on quotations.
We’ll illustrate these four steps using Franklin Roosevelt’s famous quote, “The only thing that we need to fear is ourselves.”
1. Each quotation should be contextualized
Don’t rely on quotes to tell your story. Your responsibility is to give context to the quote. The context should establish the background for the quote, including where it was spoken and written. You might write:
- When Franklin Roosevelt gave his inaugural speech on March 4, 1933, he addressed a nation weakened and demoralized by economic depression.
2. Attribute every quotation to its source.
Tell your reader who is speaking. This is a great test: Read your text aloud. Without looking at the paper, could your reader identify where your quotations begin? If so, it is important to attribute the quote.
Avoid falling into the “he/she stated” attribution trap! There are other ways to attribute quotes than this one. These are some alternative verbs that are usually followed by “that”.
- point out
Different reporting verbs are preferred for different disciplines. Pay special attention to them in your disciplinary reading. Before you use any of these words or any others found in your readings, make sure you consult a dictionary.
3. Explain the meaning of the quote.
Don’t stop once you have inserted your quote, with its context and attribution. You must still tell your reader why the quotation is important for your paper. If you’re writing a paper about Roosevelt, and you have to link the quote to Roosevelt, this is how you might do it.
- With that message of hope and confidence, the new president set the stage for his next one-hundred days in office and helped restore the faith of the American people in their government.
4. Provide a citation for the quotation.
Just like paraphrases, all quotations require a formal reference. See the UNC Libraries citation tutorial for more information about specific citation formats. You should keep in mind one rule: The parenthetical reference, footnote/endnote number should be placed after the closing quotation mark.
- Roosevelt declared, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself” (Roosevelt, Public Papers, 11).
- Roosevelt declared, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”1
How do I embed a quotation into a sentence?
Avoid using quotes as sentences by avoiding them. Even if the context has been provided, a quote taken by itself can interrupt your flow. This is an example.
- Hamlet denies Rosencrantz’s claim that thwarted ambition caused his depression. “I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space” (Hamlet 2.2).
The connection between the previous sentence and the quote is not clear. There are many ways to include a quote more easily:
Begin the quote by adding a colon.
- Hamlet denies Rosencrantz’s claim that thwarted ambition caused his depression: “I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space” (Hamlet 2.2).
The colon indicates that a quote will be provided to support the claim of the sentence.
You can introduce or end the quote by attributing the speaker. You will need to add a comma to the verb if your attribution precedes it.
- Hamlet denies Rosencrantz’s claim that thwarted ambition caused his depression. He states, “I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space” (Hamlet 2.2).
- When faced with a twelve-foot mountain troll, Ron gathers his courage, shouting, “Wingardium Leviosa!” (Rowling, p. 176).
- The Pirate King sees an element of regality in their impoverished and dishonest life. “It is, it is a glorious thing/To be a pirate king,” he declares (Pirates of Penzance, 1983).
You can interrupt the quote by giving credit to the speaker. You will need to add a comma after each verb and a comma before the attribution.
- “There is nothing either good or bad,” Hamlet argues, “but thinking makes it so” (Hamlet 2.2).
- “And death shall be no more,” Donne writes, “Death thou shalt die” (“Death, Be Not Proud,” l. 14).
The division of a quote can highlight a specific nuance in the meaning. The division in the first example calls attention to two parts of Hamlet’s claim. The first sentence states that there is no inherently good or evil; the second suggests that we can cause things to be good or worse by our perspective. The second example shows how the “Death you shalt die” at the end draws attention to the phrase. When deciding whether to split a quote, it is important to consider the impact on the division’s emphasis.
You can use the words in the quote grammatically in your sentence.
- When Hamlet tells Rosencrantz that he “could be bounded in a nutshell and count [him]self a king of infinite space” (Hamlet 2.2), he implies that thwarted ambition did not cause his depression.
- Ultimately, death holds no power over Donne since in the afterlife, “death shall be no more” (“Death, Be Not Proud,” l. 14).
You don’t need a comma when you add “that” to the end of the sentence introducing the quotation.
- The Pirate King argues that “it is, it is a glorious thing/to be a pirate king” (Pirates of Penzance, 1983).
How much should I quote?
Keep it as short as possible. Keep in mind that your paper should be primarily composed of your own words. So, only quote the most important and memorable parts from sources. These guidelines will help you choose the right quotes.
Sometimes you should use short fragments of text rather than complete sentences. Imagine interviewing Jane Doe about her reactions to John F. Kennedy’s assassination. She said:
- “I couldn’t believe it. It was just unreal and so sad. It was just unbelievable. I had never experienced such denial. I don’t know why I felt so strongly. Perhaps it was because JFK was more to me than a president. He represented the hopes of young people everywhere.”
Jane could be quoted in all her comments, but the first three sentences of Jane are redundant. Jane might be more interesting if you quote her when she reaches the ultimate cause of her strong emotions.
- Jane Doe grappled with grief and disbelief. She had viewed JFK, not just as a national figurehead, but as someone who “represented the hopes of young people everywhere.”
Take care to extract these fragments!
It is a huge responsibility to quote the words of others. It is a form of misquoting that denigrates the ideas and opinions of others. Here’s an example of a classic misquote:
- John Adams has often been quoted as having said: “This would be the best of all possible worlds if there were no religion in it.”
John Adams wrote the words above. However, if you look at these words in context, their meaning is completely different. Here’s the rest:
- Twenty times, in the course of my late reading, have I been on the point of breaking out, ‘this would be the best of all possible worlds, if there were no religion in it!!!!’ But in this exclamation, I should have been as fanatical as Bryant or Cleverly. Without religion, this world would be something not fit to be mentioned in public company—I mean hell.
This example shows that context is important!
This is an example from Paul F. Boller Jr. and John George. They Never Said It: A Book Of Fake Quotes and Misquotes and Misleading Attributions (Oxford University Press 1989).
Block quotations should be used sparingly.
Sometimes, you may need to quote lengthy passages. Block quotations should only be used when the passage’s integrity is at stake. You should block quote any passage that exceeds four lines; some sources suggest five.
Blockquotes should be handled correctly in papers across academic disciplines. Check the index of your citation style guide. These are some general guidelines to help you set off your block quotes:
- Fill a blockquote with your words, followed by a colon.
- Indent. Indent the beginning of each paragraph at a minimum of 4-5 spaces. Indent the whole paragraph from the left-hand side margin when creating a blockquote.
- Depending on your discipline’s style guidelines (MLA or CSE), you can use single space or double spaces within the block quotation. This is the.
- You should not use quotation marks at either the end or beginning of a blockquote. The indentation indicates that it is a quote.
- Use parenthetical citations according to your style guide. This is usually after the last sentence.
- Continue a blockquote with your own words.
Here’s an example of John Adams that might help you to include a blockquote:
After having read several rigidly doctrinally based tracts, John Adams recalled the passionate rantings of Joseph Cleverly, his former teacher, and Lemuel Bryant, his former minister. In an 1817 letter, Adams expressed his disapproval toward religion to Thomas Jefferson.
- Twenty times, in the course of my late reading, have I been on the point of breaking out, ‘this would be the best of all possible worlds if there were no religion in it!!!!’ But in this exclamation, I should have been as fanatical as Bryant or Cleverly. Without religion, this world would be something not fit to be mentioned in a public company—I mean hell.
Adams valued religion, even though he sometimes questioned its promotion.
How do I combine quotation marks with other punctuation marks?
Combining quotation marks with other punctuation marks can make it confusing. For more complicated situations, you should consult a style guide. However, the following rules will apply in most cases:
Use quotation marks to keep periods and commas in place.
For example, here are some examples:
- According to Professor Poe, werewolves “represent anxiety about the separation between human and animal,” and werewolf movies often “interrogate those boundaries.”
In the example above, the period and comma were both enclosed in quotation marks. Internal citations are the exception to this rule. They always precede the end of the sentence. Take this example:
- According to Professor Poe, werewolves “represent anxiety about the separation between human and animal,” and werewolf movies often “interrogate those boundaries” (Poe 167).
When your citation style includes superscript footnotes or endnotes, the period must remain within the quotation marks. Take this example:
- According to Professor Poe, werewolves “represent anxiety about the separation between human and animal,” and werewolf movies often “interrogate those boundaries.”
All other punctuation marks (colons and semicolons) should be placed outside of the quotation marks.
These are just a few examples.
- I couldn’t believe it when my friend passed me a note in the cafe saying the management “started charging $15 per hour for parking”!
- The coach yelled, “Run!”
The author used the exclamation mark to emphasize the absurdity of the parking price increase in the first example. In the original note, there was no exclamation mark. The exclamation mark is retained within the quotation mark in the second example because it indicates the coach’s excited tone. The exclamation mark can therefore be considered part of the original quotation.
How do I indicate quotations within quotations?
For internal quotations, you should use only single quotation marks if you are quoting passages that contain a quote. Rarely will you quote a passage with a quotation within it? For this rare case, double quotation marks would be used for the second internal quote.
Here’s an example:
- In “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” Hans Christian Andersen wrote, “‘But the Emperor has nothing on at all!’ cried a little child.”
Refer to your style guide for guidance on how to correctly cite a quote within an existing quote.
When should I use the three dots ( . . .)?
An ellipsis is used to remove material from a quotation. It’s a sequence of three periods that should be preceded by a space and then followed by another. This sentence would have an ellipsis. . This. This. These are some guidelines to help you use ellipses.
You must ensure that the quote does not change in any way by omitting material.
The following example illustrates this:
- “The Writing Center is located on the UNC campus and serves the entire UNC community.”
- “The Writing Center . . . serves the entire UNC community.”
Omitting information about the location of the Writing Center will not affect the reader’s understanding of the Writing Center’s mission.
If it is important for the reader that the quotation has been truncated, do not use ellipses at either the beginning or end of the quotation.
In the example above, an ellipsis would not be required in any of these cases.
- “The Writing Center is located on the UNC campus . . .”
- The Writing Center ” . . . serves the entire UNC community.”
When removing material from sentences or clauses, use punctuation marks together with ellipses.
If you are taking material from the end of a sentence, for example, leave the period in the same way as normal.
- “The boys ran to school, forgetting their lunches and books. Even though they were out of breath, they made it on time.”
- “The boys ran to school. . . . Even though they were out of breath, they made it on time.”
You can also keep the comma if you cut material from a clause that ends with a comma.
- “The red car came to a screeching halt that was heard by nearby pedestrians, but no one was hurt.”
- “The red car came to a screeching halt . . . , but no one was hurt.”
Can I insert my own words into a quote?
Sometimes, it is necessary to change a word or two within a quote to improve clarity and flow. These changes should be made very rarely. You should always bracket any changes to your text to notify the reader. These are just a few situations where brackets might be necessary:
Change the pronouns or verb tenses to make the sentence consistent.
Imagine that you were asking a woman about her experience immigrating to America. She replied, “Nobody understands me.”
- Esther Hansen felt that when she came to the United States “nobody understood [her].”
The above example shows that you have changed “me” from “her” to keep the passage in the third person. You could also rephrase the sentence to avoid this change.
- “Nobody understood me,” recalled Danish immigrant Esther Hansen.
Include any additional information your reader may need to understand the quote.
If you were to quote someone’s nickname, for example, you might want your reader to know the full name in brackets.
- “The principal of the school told Billy [William Smith] that his contract would be terminated.”
You can also identify an event that is not familiar in a quotation by using brackets.
- “We completely revised our political strategies after the strike [of 1934].”
Indicates the use of nonstandard grammar and spelling.
Rarely, you might quote from a text with nonstandard grammar, spelling, or word choice. You may need to insert [sic] in such situations, which can mean “thus” or even “so” Latin. Your reader will be alerted by using [sic] that the nonstandard language is not a typo. Always use [sic] and put it in italics. You don’t need to add a period in the end. Here is an example of what you might use:
- Twelve-year-old Betsy Smith wrote in her diary, “Father is afraid that he will be guilty of the beach [sic] of contract.”
This [sic] shows that the original author wrote “beach” and not “breach of contract”, which is the accepted terminology.
Don’t use brackets too often!
It is not necessary to bracket any capitalization changes you make at the sentence’s beginning. Consider, for example, that you are going to use a portion of this quote:
- “The colors scintillated curiously over a hard carapace, and the beetle’s tiny antennae made gentle waving motions as though saying hello.”
You don’t need to bracket capitalization changes if you want to start a sentence using a passage from the middle of the quotation.
- “The tiny antennae of the beetle made gentle waving gestures as if saying hello,” Dr. Grace Farley recalled, recalling a pivotal moment in her journey to become an entomologist.
- It’s not: Dr. Grace Farley recalled a pivotal moment in her journey to become an entomologist.
Tips for Editing and Writing Effective Quotes
Pauline A. Howes is an associate professor at Kennesaw State University’s School of Communication and Media. She shares the following tips for creating and editing quotes for a news release.
- Writing should be like real people talking. Use conversational language, but avoid using trite or filler language.
- Use memorable phrases that help to create a picture in your reader’s head.
- You can provide meaningful perspectives and insights in quotes that will increase its value and the likelihood of it being picked up by the media. Hype is not a good idea.
- Avoid using jargon and technical terms that may require further explanation.
- You should strike a balance between quotation length and word count. Say enough to convey the entire thought but not too much. Think Goldilocks: Not too long, not too short, but just right.
- Include details that are more detailed and rich than what is possible in the body of your release.
- When attributing quotes, use a simple style. You can easily attribute a quote using the verbs “said” or “says”. A feature article may be more appropriate for attribution phrases than a news release.
- Use the right tense depending on the news topic and the type of news. The past tense is used to refer to an action that has been completed or to an event that has occurred. The present tense is more timeless and can be used.
- You should check the facts of your news release and proofread it to make sure you don’t make mistakes in grammar, punctuation, or a typo. Finally, make sure you give the correct name and spelling of the source.
These works were used in the creation of this handout. We recommend that you do your research to locate additional publications. This handout is not meant to be a complete list of resources. This list should not be used as a template for your reference list. It may not reflect the style of citation you are using. The UNC Libraries citation tutorial guides formatting citations. These tips are updated regularly, and we welcome your feedback.
Barzun, Jacques, and Henry F. Graff. 2012. The Modern Researcher, 6th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.
Booth, Wayne C., Gregory G. Colomb, Joseph M. Williams, Joseph Bizup, and William T. FitzGerald. 2016. The Craft of Research, 4th ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Gibaldi, Joseph. 2009. MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, 7th ed. New York: The Modern Language Association of America.
Turabian, Kate. 2018. A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, Dissertations, 9th ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.