Advice about Quoting and Citing
Note: Check the "Index to the Guide" for specific questions about quoting and citing.

How often should you cite?

You must clearly document the source of the ideas and the words in your writing, but you don't want to clutter your papers with endless interruptions. Some students mistakenly believe that a citation must follow every sentence that refers to material from a source. in the footnote/endnote citation format, many students dutifully note each sentence in a paragraph and write page after page of ibid.'s. Clearly, such repetition is not needed to indicate your debt to a particular source. If a long paragraph is devoted to summarizing source material, one citation is sufficient as long as you show clearly that the material comes from the source and not from you.

When only one sentence cites a source, place the citation at the end of that sentence. By writing carefully, you can distinguish your own ideas from those that come from sources:

     According to Alvin Toffler, in order to save the "nuclear family" in America, we would have to "forcibly drive women back into the kitchen" and prohibit the use of contraception (Wave 210-11). Needless to say, most women in our society - not to mention a good many men - would oppose such reactionary measures.

     Our current energy supply, still mainly based as it is on fossil fuels and nuclear power, is consumable and centralized; it's a profitable commodity to sell and control. Investors don't want to promote energy sources like wind and solar power; they can't make huge profits or maintain control with such decentralized and renewable resources (Toffler, Wave 132-38).

When you clearly indicate indebtedness to a source, one citation can suffice for an entire paragraph of summary:

     According to Toffler, a great many influences in the United States during the late seventies encouraged the development of various family configurations other than the nuclear family. An increasing number of women became more interested in working outside the home at the same time that economic circumstances were making a second paycheck a necessity rather than a luxury. Since the invention of the birth-control pill, women were now as sexually liberated as men, which put pressure on traditional family relationships. Many adults openly chose not to have children at all. Indeed, given these changing attitudes toward the family, if we wanted to "save" the nuclear family, Toffler argues, we would now have to turn back the clock in a number of ways: forcing women to return to being housewives and mothers, banning contraception, cutting the wages available to young families and even cutting the entire standard of living to discourage single people from trying to get by on their own (Wave 208-25).


Short quotations

Use quotation marks and incorporate quoted material within your own sentence. Short quotations, up to four typed lines of text, should be worked into the fabric of your own language. Make sure a sentence containing a quotation reads fluently and is correct grammatically. Use quotation marks to indicate which words, phrases or passages come directly from a source, as in the following two examples:

     Ernest Becker writes, "The process of socialization is characterized by one fundamental and recurring fact: the child's natural urge to move freely forward, to manipulate, experiment, and exercise his own assimilative powers is continually blocked" (58).

Note: Use a comma after an introductory phrase such as "Ernest Becker writes." Notice, also, that the parenthetical citation comes after the end quotation mark.

     Ernest Becker writes that "the process of socialization is characterized by one fundamental and recurring fact: the child's natural urge to move freely forward, to manipulate, experiment, and exercise his own assimilative powers is continually blocked" (58).

Note: When the introductory phrase ends in "that" you do not use a comma before the quotation.

Often, you do not need to include a whole sentence from a source if all you want to quote is a word or phrase. Select quoted material carefully so that you control the sentence.

     Socialization involves continually blocking and frustrating "the child's natural urge to move freely forward, manipulate, experiment, and exercise his own assimilative powers" (Becker 58).


Ellipses

When you alter the quoted material in any way, you need to indicate to your reader that you have done so. Use an ellipsis of three dots ( ... ) to eliminate parts of a source you do not wish to quote. For material omitted at the end of the sentence, add a period to the three ellipsis dots. That means you'll have four dots at the end of a sentence. Ellipses should be used only in the middle and at the end of a quotation; they are not used at the beginning. Note that there is a space typed after each dot. You should take care not to distort the meaning of the original source when you use ellipses.

     Because socialization involves blocking "the child's natural urge to ... exercise his own assimilative powers," Becker argues that all people grow up neurotic (58).


Square brackets

Square brackets [ ] indicate words that you, as writer and editor, insert into a quote to clarify it or make it grammatically correct.

The school board candidate then concluded: "Our efforts in this direction [improving graduation rates] have never appeared more promising.


sic

Place the Latin term sic ("thus") in brackets to indicate an obvious error in the original quoted source. You want your reader to know that the error came from the source and not from your own carelessness. Alternatively, you may include the correction inside the brackets:

The early edition of the Rocky Mountain Post declared Harry Truman the winner of the 1948 presidential election and declared: "Harry's buick [sic] stops again in Washington!"

or

The early edition of the Rocky Mountain Post declared Harry Truman the winner of the 1948 presidential election and declared: "Harry's buick [buck] stops again in Washington!"


Quotation within a quotation

Use single quotation marks when the source you are quoting contains a quotation within it.

According to psychiatrist Arthur Kleinman, agreement about treatment and prognosis for mental illness leads to "the view that depression, schizophrenia, and phobias are 'things' in the real world" (11).

Exception: In a block quotation, use double quotation marks if the source contains a quotation within it.


Italicizing for emphasis

Sometimes when you quote a passage, you want your reader to pay attention to a particular word or phrase. You can italicize that word or phrase when you quote, but you must indicate to your reader that you have added the italics. Here's how to do it:

As late as 1929, Pierre Janet, lecturing on mental illness, connected madness to supernatural superhuman abilities. "In the development of every great religion, both in ancient and in modern times," Janet said, "there have always been strange persons who raised the admiration of the crowd because their nature seemed to be different from human nature" (Janet 8, italics added). This distinction made madness both feared and envied.

Besides the addition of italics, notice how the writer broke the quotation into two parts by interrupting the quoted passage with "Janet said." These interruptions serve well to help you integrate the quoted material into your own writing. Notice, also, that the writer commented upon the italicized terms in the sentence that follows the quotation.


Longer or block quotations

Earlier in this guide, we recommended that you double-space your papers. Continue to use double-spacing when you quote a long passage but indent ten spaces from the left margin to clearly distinguish blocked quotations from your own text. (Prior editions of the MLA Style Sheet used single-spacing for blocked quotations.) The right margin does not need any adjustment. Longer or block quotations, (four or more lines of prose; three or more lines of poetry) usually follow an introductory sentence ending with a colon. This placement on the page identifies the passage as a quotation; therefore, you do not need quotation marks at the beginning and end of the quotation. Since block quotations usually are not part of your own sentence, place the parenthetical citation at the end of the passage, two spaces after the final period. However, when a block quotation is part of your own sentence, place the period after the parenthetical reference, as with a short quotation.

Since block quotations usually are not part of your own sentence, place the parenthetical citation at the end of the passage, two spaces after the final period. However, when a block quotation is part of your own sentence, place the period after the parenthetical reference, as with a short quotation.

     Brown cites China as the one country that has tried to deal directly with its own staggering population problem:

     While most countries now officially encourage family planning, China is the first to undertake national birth planning. Each year, Beijing establishes a national birth quota as an integral part of overall economic planning.... These quotas are then translated into birth permits, made on the basis of the couple's age and their current number of children. A newly married couple in their late twenties would be high on the eligibility list while a couple in their mid-twenties with a newborn infant might be encouraged to wait a few years before having another child. (158)


Using long quotations effectively

All quotations must be integrated into your paper, whether they are a few words or many lines. A good rule is that you should have at least as much of your own explanation or analysis of a quotation as there is quotation. If a quotation occupies ten lines, you should have at least ten lines of commentary about the quotation. Don't quote and run. In the following example, notice how the sentences surrounding the quotation prepare for it and comment upon it, leading the reader to see its significance. In this example, the quoted passage begins as a new paragraph, so paragraphing is indicated by indenting within the blocked quotation.

     Becker sees evolution as progressing toward a human mind with greater freedom than is found in the lower orders:

     The development of mind, then, involves a progressive freedom from reactivity. The reactive process which is inherent in the organism not only gradually arrives at freedom from the intrinsic properties of things but also proceeds from there to assign its own stimulus meanings. Mind culminates in the organism's ability to choose what it will react to. White calls this a "traffic in nonsensory meanings." Nature provided all of life with water, but only man could create the symbol H20 which gave him some command over water, and the word "holy" which gave water special powers that even nature could not give. (7)

As Becker implies, then, only humans are symbol-bearing. Symbols represent humans' ability to react selectively to those elements in the environment that connect humans communally. Our communities manipulate such symbols and take command of them .

-LS 1 Student (Class of 1992, name withheld by request.)

Remember: Quotations do not speak for themselves. You need to comment upon them and interpret them for your reader.


Dialogue

Direct discourse or dialogue should always be enclosed in quotation marks. In dialogue, a change in speaker is usually indicated by a new paragraph.

     "And suppose his enterprise went wrong?" her husband suggested.

     "It won’t go wrong. Hasn’t he made a success of his syndicate?"

      "He says so - yes."

      "Very well; then it stands to reason that he'll succeed in this too. He wouldn't undertake it if he didn't know it would succeed; he must have capital." (Howells, 18)


Poetry

If you are quoting more than three lines of poetry, quote them line by line as they appear in the poem, indenting as you would a block quotation. Indicate the line numbers in parentheses after the final punctuation mark.

      In "Snake," Emily Dickinson describes her subject by the effect of its movement:

            The grass divides as with a comb,
            A spotted shaft is seen;
            And then it closes at your feet
            And opens further on. (5-8)

If you are quoting three lines or fewer, integrate the quotations into your own sentence, using a slash (/) to indicate line breaks. Indicate line numbers at the end of the quotation.

      In "Snake," Emily Dickinson describes her subject by the effect of its movement: "The grass divides as with a comb,/ A spotted shaft is seen" (5-6).


CREATIVE THOUGHT MATTERS
Skidmore College · 815 North Broadway · Saratoga Springs, NY 12866
© 2006 Skidmore College
http://www.skidmore.edu