4. Frequently asked questions about quoting

1) When writing a paper, after I quote a source, should I add my own ideas about the quote?

Usually,  but it depends on the purpose of using the quote and the purpose of the paper. Often, it helps to explain to your reader why the quote supports your argument. In some cases, you may need to help your readers understand the quote better, for example by explaining how the quote fits into the overall conversation. For many courses, you are expected to offer your own original ideas and interpretations in papers, and so you would add your own analysis of the material found in the quote — for example, in an analysis paper for a class on literature, history, art, culture, political science, and many other fields.

2) Is it okay to change the exact words of a quote so that it fits my paper better?

Everything in quotation marks needs to be the exact words of the source, or needs to clearly communicate to the audience what exactly has been changed.

Brackets and ellipses can be used to tell the audience where you have added or left out words from the quotation. It is important that you do not use ellipses and brackets in ways that distort the original meaning of the source (see the next question in the FAQ). This site provides examples: https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/research_and_citation/mla_style/mla_formatting_and_style_guide/mla_formatting_quotations.html

3) What if I disagree with a source, but I am able to make it seem like the source agrees with me by selectively editing quotes?

People don’t really ask this question, but sometimes people assume that it’s fine – it’s not.

Distorting what sources say in papers is considered unacceptable, both academically and ethically. In writing papers, it is usually good to acknowledge that other opinions exist and to demonstrate that you have considered the opposing side’s perspective and perhaps refute it, or perhaps offer a compromise solution. But distorting opposing views to make your own view look stronger can actually make it seem like you don’t understand the debate or that you are not trustworthy. Distortions can also happen if writers just skim over an article without understanding what the source is really saying.

Your writing should help your readers understand something, and intentional and unintentional distortions both might disempower your readers and make them less likely to trust your arguments.  Papers are not the only places where people should take care to avoid distorting what others say, however: Do you think you would be more empowered as a citizen if you knew that ads and news stories made the greatest possible effort to not distort anyone’s views? Why? Do you think democracy would be stronger if more people felt a sense of responsibility to not distort what their opponents have said? Even at a more everyday level, would you trust an acquaintance if he or she gave you a distorted account of what other people have said about you?

It is never acceptable in academic papers to distort what sources say, but we might think about this question: In what circumstances might it be acceptable to pick and choose parts of quotes to change the meaning of the sources? Some artists or humorists do so, but their audiences are well aware that this is what they are doing.

Example

For example, why does this artist take pieces of quotes from politicians to make them appear to say something different from what they intended to say?

4) What is a hanging quote or drop quote or dropped quote?

These terms all refer to a quote that stands alone without fitting into the sentence structure of your writing. This is often considered inappropriate for academic writing.

Example

Example of hanging quotes or drop quotes (generally thought to be incorrect):

Suchman (2002) explained that there are key challenges to sustainable innovation. “This means that innovation and change are inevitably costly undertakings” (Suchman, 2002, p. 144).

This example is a hanging quote because the quote takes up the entire sentence, with no signal phrase or other way of integrating the quote into a sentence structure. Here are examples of how to properly integrate quotes into the sentence structure of your paper (ways to fix hanging quotes):

Suchman (2002) explained that there are key challenges to sustainable innovation, noting that “innovation and change are inevitably costly undertakings” (p. 144).

Or

According to Suchman (2002), “innovation and change are inevitably costly undertakings” (p. 144).

Work Cited:

Suchman, L. (2002). Practice-based design of information systems: notes from the hyperdeveloped world. The Information Society, 18(2), 139-144. 10.1080/01972240290075066

5) Where does the punctuation go when using quotations?

That depends on whether there is a parenthetical citation at the end of the quote.

Usually, punctuation goes inside the quotation marks. But if you are using a parenthetical citation after the quote, and the quotation ends in a period or comma, then the period will go after the citation. Question marks and exclamation marks go inside of the quotation regardless of whether there is a parenthetical citation.

Examples

Mr. Spock called the report “a complete disgrace.”

Mr. Spock called the report “a complete disgrace” (p. 15).

Mr. Spock asked, “Why would the Commission take such an unwise course of action?” (p. 15).

You can find more information here: https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/general_writing/punctuation/quotation_marks/index.html

6) What if you are quoting a passage that has a quote within it?

Use single quote marks for quotes within quotes. See more information here: https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/research_and_citation/mla_style/mla_formatting_and_style_guide/mla_formatting_quotations.html

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