To quote means to reproduce what someone else has previously expressed. In some fields, for instance the humanities and social sciences, quoting is a common way of giving reference, not least because these diciplines are text-centred in the sense that the way someone has expressed something may be highly relevant and therefore needs to be reproduced word for word.
If you quote, you must pay attention to quotation rules, such as the necessity to give the exact wording of the text that is being quoted and to identify the source. Quotations must also be contextualised, properly introduced and identified. Below, the following aspects of quoting are covered:
When to quote
As stated above, the prevalence of quotations differs between disciplines, and writers need to comply with the conventions of their specific field.
Do not quote too much and too often as a text with an excessive number of quotations is not only difficult to read; in most cases it also comes across as lacking in originality. Quotations are commonly used to clarify some aspect that is being discussed or to substantiate a claim that is made in the text:
To clarify or define
A quotation can be used to define, describe or explain something that is being discussed, for instance if you wish to provide a definition of a concept you use in your text:
- To quote means to "reproduce or repeat a passage" from a book, for instance (Oxford English Dictionary).
"quote, v." In OED Online, Oxford University Press. www.oed.com/view/Entry/156908.
To substantiate a claim
A quotation may also be used to support the claim that is being made. In this example, a statement (about the popularity of a particular kind of animal) is followed up by a quotation that provides an explanation for this popularity:
- Meerkats are very popular animans and have often been used in marketing. According to Miles and Ibrahim (2013) this can be explained by their anthropomorphic qualities: "meerkats are most commonly constructed as courageous, playful and witty, and as a symbol of communal vigilance" (p. 1871).
Miles, C. & Ibrahim, Y. (2013). Deconstructing the meerkat: Fabular anthropomorphism, popular culture, and the market. Journal of Marketing Management, 29:15-16,1862-1880, DOI: 10.1080/0267257X.2013.803142
How to quote
Since quotations by definition are exact renderings of what someone else has written, said or otherwise expressed, they must be correctly reproduced. Furthermore, they must be contextualised, properly introduced and identified:
Quotations must be contextualised
Always make sure to quote in a way that does not misrepresent the source that you quote from. To contextualise a quotation means to frame it in a way that presents the situation in a correct manner and provides the information that the reader needs in order to understand the quoted piece. Since the reader cannot be expected to know the exact context of the quotation, you must provide the reader with this information in order to avoid misrepresentation and misunderstanding.
Quotations must be properly introduced
In order to be fully understood, quotations must be introduced. As stated above, the function of quotations is often to exemplify or clarify something, and sometimes writers choose to show the exact wording of a source for some other reason. In any case, the function of a quotation should be that of illustrating the writer's argument; a quotation must never be the argument itself.
Therefore, you must introduce quotations, and, preferably, also comment on the quotation. One problem sometimes found in students' texts is the so-called dropped quotation which happens if you insert a quotation in-between your own sentences without introducing it and integrating it into your text, for instance by using reporting verbs/phrases. There are various ways of introducing quotations, and practices vary between disciplines and reference styles. See:
Quotations must be identified
Whenever you quote someone else's work, you must give a reference that states the source. The correct procedure for this depends on the reference style used. See:
The use of quotation marks
Note that in English writing, typographical quotation marks (that is, curly quotation marks) look different from Swedish quotation marks:
If set to English language settings, MS Word will automatically format quotation marks correctly.
Single or double quotation marks?To distinguish between quotations and quotations-within-quotations, either double quotation marks are used for the quotation and single for the quotation-within-quotation, or vice versa. British publishers tend to use single quotation marks for quotations, whereas North American publishers usually favour double quotation marks. As mentioned previously, practices vary, however; therefore, anyone writing for publication needs to check the preference of the publisher. In either case, consistency within the text is vital.
Short quotation or long quotation?When pieces of text are being quoted, this is indicated in different ways, depending on the length of the quoted passage. Short quotations are fully integrated in the text, whereas long quotations are set off from the running text in block quotations. Block quotations do not have quotation marks; by setting the quotation off from the text the writer indicates that the piece of text is a quotation. The left margin of the block quotation is indented (sometimes the right margin, too), which means that it is not aligned with the rest of the text. Note that if there is a quotation within the block quotation, that quotation-within-the-quotation will keep its quotation marks. What is defined as a 'long quotation' differs between references styles; for instance, APA draws the limit at 40 words.
How to edit quotations
The use of ellipsisIf it is not possible to fit the quoted passage into the sentence structure of the text you are writing, or if the quoted passage is unnecessarily long, it is possible to make changes through the use of square brackets. When something from the original passage is removed, we sometimes talk about ellipsis.
The term ellipsis is defined by the Oxford English Dictonary in the following way:
ellipsis, noun. The omission of one or more words in a sentence, which would be needed to complete the grammatical construction or fully to express the sense; concr. an instance of such omission.
Note the plural form of ellipsis: ellipses
If a part of the quotation has been removed or added, this needs to be indicated. If the quoted text is too long, for instance, it can be shortened with the help of an ellipsis. The writer must indicate with square brackets where a chunk of text has been removed, and no changes as to the meaning of the quotated text can be made. Often three dots ... or square brackets and three dots [...] are used to show that words have been excluded. Similarly, square brackets with words inserted are used to show what words have been added or changed. Square brackets can also be used to clarify something in the quotation or to add information that the writer considers to be necessary for the understanding of the quotation.
In quotations, no changes must be made to the original text without this being indicated, and if square brackets are inserted, they should only be used to clarify something in the quotation, for grammatical reasons, or to shorten a text.
Furthermore, no changes must be made that alter the ideas or the results that are expressed in the original text.
The following example comes from an article in Victorian Literature and Culture. For reasons of clarity, the writer has added a numeral to the name of the king mentioned in the text that she is quoting:
Cast off by her husband, the Prince Regent, and sent into exile in 1814, Queen Caroline had returned to England in June 1820 to "demand her rights as Queen and to contest George [IV]'s demands for divorce, and accusations of adultery" (Wood 149).
Ledger, S. (2004). From Queen Caroline to Lady Dedlock: Dickens and the Popular Radical Imagination. Victorian Literature and Culture, 32(2), 575–600.
The use of emphasis
If the writer wishes to add emphasis to one or more words in the quotation, these words can be italicised. The reference then has to be accompanied by a comment indicating this change.
The use of [sic]
If there is a spelling mistake or any other error in the text that is quoted, the writer can point this out by adding the word [sic] after the inaccurate word or phrase. By doing this, he or she shows that the mistake is in the original text. The Latin word 'sic,' which means 'thus,' is placed after the word to which the writer wishes to draw the reader's attention. There is some variation between reference styles – some use italics and square brackets, whereas other styles prefer non-italics and parenthesis. A note of caution is in place here; it is not always necessary to reproduce the mistake of others.
As the Oxford Style Manual (2003) argues, "Often it is unfair and unnecessary to [...] draw attention to what may be no more than dittography or printer's error: unless the mistake has textual significance, transmitting the content of the quoted matter is usually more important than reproducing its original form, warts and all" (Ritter, p. 192-193).
Note: "Dittography" means "Double writing; the unintentional repetition of a letter or word, or series of letters or words, by a copyist" (Oxford English Dictionary).
Ritter, R. M. (2003). The Oxford Style Manual. Oxford University Press.
Sometimes, writers wish to stress that the spelling used in old documents has not been wrongly reproduced. The quotation below is the opening sentence of an article from Health Education Research on early-seventeenth-century views on the use of tobacco. The writer wants to make clear that the book title does indeed look like this, although the spelling would, of course, be different today.
Late in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, a treatise against tobacco, entitled Work for Chimny-Sweepers or A Warning for Tabacconists [sic], was published in London (Philaretes, 1602).
Chariton, A. (2005). Tobacco or health 1602: An Elizabethan doctor speaks. Health Education Research, 20(1), 101–111.
Other uses of quotation marks in academic writing
Quotation marks are sometimes used to set off words from the text that the writer wishes to highlight:
'Wellies' is the short form for wellington boots, named after Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington.
In some reference styles, quotations marks are used to indicate titles of articles, poems, songs, and other forms of texts that form part of larger units.
ABBA's hit 'Mamma Mia' was released in 1975.