Writing about others work: using direct quotations
Help and advice
You'll use direct quotes to support your arguments throughout your degree. Learn how to reference your sources properly and show who said what to save you time and stress later on.
Using direct quotes in your writing improves your work and shows evidence of research and ideas in your assessments. Here, we explore how to use different quotes in your assessments.
What is the difference between direct quotes, paraphrasing, citing and referencing?
You'll need quoting, paraphrasing, citing and referencing to use work produced by other people in your assignments and support or challenge your arguments. You'll use a combination of these steps in your studies so it's important to understand the differences between them.
These phrases mean:
- Quoting: copying the exact words of the original text, using quotation marks and the author's name, for example, when taken from a book or an article on a reading list.
- Paraphrasing: rephrasing and shortening the original text into your own words without using quotation marks, then writing the author’s surname, year of publication.
- Citing: writing the author’s surname, year of publication and, for direct quotations, page number to show where you found your direct quotation or paraphrased information.
- Referencing: refers to publications included in the list of references at the end.
When to use direct quotes
There are various reasons to use direct quotations in academic writing. You'll usually use them as an example of ideas in your assignment, but exactly how you use them varies depending on your discipline. History or Sociology students use quotes differently to Biology or Computing students, for example. You should consult your course handbook, speak to your tutors and learn from your previous assignment feedback to explore how direct quotations are used on your course. Reading around your subject will also help you understand how academics in your field write.
Using quotes properly will support your points and improve your assignments. Use quotes that back up your argument rather than quotes that 'look good' or sound impressive. Make sure you understand what a quote is saying in its context and explain its meaning in your work. Using quotes out of context or misinterpreting them to support your point won't improve your marks.
Plan your work, its structure and the key points and then choose which quotes to include. Choosing quotes beforehand means you're more likely to let your quotes shape your writing as you try to link one quote to another. Trying to link unrelated ideas because they sound good in isolation won't help you draw accurate conclusions, and could negatively impact your assessment.
Using direct quotations
You'll often use direct quotes in the middle of a paragraph. Use double quotation marks at the beginning and end of the quote, use the exact words from the original text and show your source, or your work being could be considered as plagiarism. For example:
According to Gross it is (open direct quotation marks) "not only the vocabulary of a language that determines how and what we think and perceive, but also the grammar."(close direct quotation marks) (1996, p. 317).
Quotes must sit logically in your writing and make sense. Your marker shouldn't feel like the quote stands out. Consider commenting on the quotation by discussing its meaning or adding more information to it if you need to. For example:
But it is not only the vocabulary of a language that determines how and what we think and perceive, but also the grammar. In the Hopi language, no distinction is made between past, present and future; it is a (open direct quotation marks) "timeless language" (close direct quotation marks) (Gross, 1996, p. 324), compared with English. In European languages, time is treated as an objective entity, as if it were a ruler with equal spaces or intervals marked off. There is a clear demarcation between past, present and future corresponding to three separate sections of a ruler.
Include short quotations of less than three lines in your main text. Use quotation marks to separate the quote from your own writing. This could look like:
Furthermore, it is (open direct quotation marks) "not only the vocabulary of a language that determines how and what we think and perceive but also the grammar" (close direct quotation marks) (Gross, 1996, p. 317).
Separate direct quotations that are more than three lines from your text by leaving a line space above and below the quote and indenting it. These quotes should be single line spaced (unlike the rest of your text, which is probably double or 1.5 line spaced). Indented quotes don't need quotation marks. This could look like:
Writing about Hopi, a native American language, Gross writes:
In the Hopi language, no distinction is made between the past, present and future; it is a timeless language’ compared with English, although it does recognise duration, i.e., how long an event lasts. In European languages, time is treated as an objective entity (Gross, 1996, p. 317).
(end of indent)
The distinction drawn between the languages and their treatment of time is interesting and relevant to the argument because...
Omitting parts of a quotation
Use an ellipsis (three dots) to omit or remove parts of a quote and show where you've removed text. Don't change the meaning of the quote when you do this. For example:
Gross (1996, p.137) points out that in the language it is (open direct quotation marks) "not only in the vocabulary…(dot dot dot), but also the grammar" (close direct quotation marks) that influences how and what we understand.
Clarifying a quotation
You can add words to a quote in square brackets to make its meaning clearer. This is known as interpolation. For example:
Gross emphasises the contrast: (open the direct quotation marks) "In the Hopi language, no distinction is made between past, present and future (open square brackets) [whereas] (close square brackets) in European languages …(dot dot dot) there is a clear demarcation between (open square brackets) [them] (close square brackets)."(close direct quotation marks) (Gross, 1996, p. 317).
Gross, R. (1996). Psychology: The science of mind and behaviour (3rd ed.). Hodder & Stoughton