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Why is it important to use only the most vital part of a quote to support your point?

Although the use of direct quotations from reliable sources contributes to the credibility of the writer, the use of lengthy quotes can dilute the writer’s voice as well as remove attention from the writer’s point.

Judicious writers should concern themselves not only with the quality of quoted material, but also with the quantity. Careful selection of the most vital words and phrases from a quotation can contribute to the writer’s ability to support their ideas clearly and concisely.

How can a quote be shortened?

  • Carefully select only quotations whose words are significant, concise, and unusually expressive.
  • Choose only the key words and phrases from the quote that are relevant to a specific point; use ellipsis points where a word, phrase, or sentence is omitted.
  • Try to limit the length of a quotation to no more than two lines.
  • Keep the 10% guideline in mind—quoted material should make up no more than 10% of the paper’s content.
  • Follow your instructor’s directives for quote length—some may impose a limitation on the number of words for each quote.

Let’s look at an example:

Quote that is inappropriately long:

       Parents should be concerned about their child's hand-washing habits—not only under supervision at home, but when the child is being cared for by others. Experts from the Mayo Clinic staff offer their support for this aspect of parental responsibility: (Note: An introductory signal sentence precedes the quotation.)

Hand-washing is especially important for children in child care settings. Young children cared for in groups outside the home are at greater risk of respiratory and gastrointestinal diseases, which can easily spread to family members and other contacts. Be sure your child care provider promotes frequent hand-washing or use of alcohol-based hand sanitizers. Ask whether the children are required to wash their hands several times a day — not just before meals. (“Hand-washing: Do’s and Don’ts” 2) [1]

Note: This 71-word quotation is not only too long for an average-length essay, but it contains additional details that are not essential to support the writer’s point.

Shortened version of the same quotation:

       Parents should be concerned about their child’s hand-washing habits—not only under supervision at home, but when the child is being cared for by others. Experts from the Mayo Clinic staff advise that “[h]and-washing is especially important for children in child care settings. . . . Be sure your child care provider promotes frequent hand-washing” (“Hand-washing: Do’s and Don’ts” 2).

Note: Here the quotation has been shortened to less than two lines (21 words) and is integrated into the paragraph with a signal phrase. The sentences selected from the longer quotation contain key words and phrases that relate directly to the writer’s point.

For more information on shortening quotations, see also:


[1] “Hand-washing: Do’s and Don’ts.” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 15 Oct. 2011. Web. 25 April 2012.