Quotation – When & How to Use Quotes in Your Writing

What is a Quotation?

A quotation refers to the precise replication of words or phrases from another source, embedded within one’s own writing or speech. To distinguish these directly borrowed elements from original content, writers use quotation marks. Additionally, they provide citations or footnotes to trace back to the original source, maintaining the integrity of the content.

Related Concepts: Copyright; Information Has Value; Inserting or Altering Words in a Direct Quotation; Intellectual Property; Omitting Words from a Direct Quotation; Plagiarism; Scholarship as a Conversation


Why Does Quotation Matter?

When writers incorporate quotations, they aren’t merely borrowing words. They’re strategically weaving the collective wisdom of past thinkers into their narrative, bolstering their arguments, and enhancing their credibility.

  1. Recognition of Scholarly Foundations: Quotations enable writers to highlight and pay respect to the foundational works, insights, and contributions of past scholars, researchers, and theorists. By doing so, they acknowledge the deep roots of knowledge and ideas that have paved the way for present-day discussions and discoveries.
  2. Authentic Representation in Discourse: Quotations preserve the precise wording of an author, grounding the reader directly in the original discourse. Unlike paraphrases or summaries, which reinterpret or condense an author’s message, quotations maintain the unaltered essence, subtleties, and nuances of the original statement.
  3. Validation: Quotations may function as compelling evidence, fortifying the claims a writer has made in their argument
  4. Building upon Established Knowledge: Quotations illuminate existing ideas, paving the way for writers to elaborate on, challenge, or pivot them toward new directions.
  5. Preservation of Nuance: Quotations capture the intricate subtleties of unique expressions and poetic language, ensuring that their inherent meaning remains unaltered.
  6. Positioning within a Discourse: Through quotations, writers can align or differentiate themselves within specific intellectual landscapes, debates, or traditions.
  7. Credibility: Meticulous citation and thoughtful quotation are hallmarks of a diligent writer, revealing their commitment to professional and ethical codes of conduct.

What Do Writers Quote in Academic and Professional Writing

In both academic and professional writing, quotation serves multiple functions:

  1. Authenticity and Credibility: Quoting directly from a source provides evidence that the information is based on established research or authoritative accounts. It adds weight to arguments, showcasing that they aren’t merely opinions but are backed by recognized studies or experts in the field.
  2. Respect for Copyright & Intellectual Property: Academic and workplace writers, trained in critical literacy skills, follow citation conventions meticulously. This diligence stems from their respect for copyright laws and the broader principles of intellectual property. Properly citing and quoting indicates an acknowledgment of the original creator’s contribution and ensures that their work is not appropriated without due credit.
  3. Preserving Original Meaning: Paraphrasing or summarizing can sometimes inadvertently alter the original meaning or nuance of a text. Quoting ensures that the exact words and context provided by the original author are retained.
  4. Engaging the Reader: Quotations can be used strategically to capture the reader’s attention. A well-chosen quote can make an article or essay more engaging, invoking curiosity or emphasizing a point.
  5. Paying Homage: Quoting acknowledges the original creators of content. It’s a form of respect, indicating that their words have made an impact and are deemed worthy of repetition and recognition.
  6. Avoiding Plagiarism: In academic and professional contexts, using someone else’s words or ideas without proper citation is considered unethical and can have serious repercussions. Quoting, accompanied by appropriate citation, ensures that credit is given where it’s due.
  7. Enriching Content: Quotations can introduce diverse voices and perspectives into a piece of writing. They can be used to support or counter arguments, provide alternative viewpoints, or illustrate a point more vividly.
  8. Encouraging Deeper Engagement: When readers encounter a quotation, especially one from a recognized authority or a profound piece of literature, it prompts them to reflect on its meaning, perhaps encouraging them to seek out the original source and engage more deeply with the topic.
  9. Clarifying Complex Ideas: At times, original texts may communicate complex ideas in a way that’s particularly clear or compelling. Quoting such passages can assist the writer in conveying these complexities without the risk of oversimplification.

When Should You Use Quotations in Your Writing?

There are five major reasons for using quotations:

  1. Evidential Support: To back up claims or arguments with concrete evidence.
  2. Illustrative Purposes: To give specific examples or to illuminate a point.
  3. Eloquence and Impact: Sometimes, the original phrasing is so poignant or well-expressed that paraphrasing might dilute its power or clarity.
  4. Appeal to Authority: Quoting renowned figures or experts can bolster the credibility of an argument.
  5. Attribution: To give credit to the original source or author and avoid plagiarism.

When Should I Quote as Opposed to Paraphrasing or Summarizing?

Quoting, paraphrasing, and summarizing are all essential techniques in writing, allowing writers to incorporate the ideas of others into their work.

In general, however, because readers do not want to read miscellaneous quotations that are thrown together one after another, you are generally better off paraphrasing and summarizing material and using direct quotations sparingly. Students—from middle school, college, through graduate school—sometimes believe loads of quotations bring a great deal of credibility, ethos, to the text. Yet, if too many quotes are provided, the text loses clarity.

Like everything else in life, balance is the key. The problem with texts that use extensive direct quotations is that they tend to take attention away from the writer’s voice, purpose, thesis. If you offer quotations every few lines, your ideas become subordinate to other people’s ideas and voices, which often contradicts your instructor’s reasons for assigning research papers—that is, to learn what you think about a subject.

Below are some general strategies you might consider when determine it’s best to quote, paraphrase, or summarize:


  • Heart of the Argument: When a passage directly encapsulates the essence of the discussion, quoting ensures the original message isn’t diluted.
  • Eloquence & Precision: Some texts are so beautifully articulated or precisely worded that rephrasing would diminish their impact or clarity.
  • Eyewitness Accounts: Dramatic firsthand accounts of events can lose their emotional potency if not presented verbatim.
  • Influential Authorities: Quoting recognized experts or influential figures can lend credibility to an argument.
  • Pertinent Data: Specific statistics or data points, when exactness is crucial, should be quoted directly.
  • Challenging to Rephrase: Some complex ideas or specialized terminologies can be hard to rephrase without altering the original meaning.


  • Clarification: When the original text is dense or hard to understand, a paraphrase can clarify the message for the reader.
  • Integration: To weave source material more seamlessly into one’s writing, a paraphrase can be more fluid than a direct quote.
  • Modification: If a writer wishes to emphasize a particular aspect of the source material or adapt it for a different audience, paraphrasing allows for this flexibility.


  • Overview: Summaries are excellent for providing readers with a snapshot of a larger work or body of research.
  • Brevity: When the main gist of a longer text is relevant, but details aren’t necessary, summarizing captures the essence in fewer words.

In all cases, whether quoting, paraphrasing, or summarizing, proper attribution is vital to respect the original author’s intellectual property and to provide readers with a clear path to the primary source.

Is It Okay to Edit Quotations for Brevity and Clarity?

Yes, editing quotations for clarity and brevity is often necessary, especially when you want to emphasize your own voice and perspective in your writing. Utilizing direct quotations from reliable sources enhances your credibility, but extensive quotations can overshadow your voice and detract from your main argument. Responsible writers prioritize both the quality and the quantity of their quotations, selecting only the most pertinent words or phrases to articulate their points effectively.

How Can I Effectively Shorten a Quote?

  1. Opt for integrating the part of a quotation that is most impactful, concise, and uniquely expressive.
  2. Extract only the key segments of the quote that align with your argument, employing ellipses where you omit sections.
  3. Aim for quotations that span no more than two lines.
  4. Adhere to the 10% rule: quotations shouldn’t exceed 10% of your paper’s total word count.
  5. Always respect guidelines given by instructors or publishers regarding quotation length.

Example: Trimming a Quote for Brevity

Original Quote:

“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)

Revised Quote with Context:

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).

What is the Purpose of Ellipses in Quotations?

Ellipses, represented by three dots ( . . . ), indicate that a portion of the original text has been removed for brevity, relevance, or clarity.

How Should Ellipses Be Formatted Within a Quotation?

  1. Spacing: There should be a space before, between, and after each of the dots.Example:“Original thought . . . remains crucial.”

When Is It Appropriate to Use Ellipses in a Quotation?

  1. To remove non-essential information that doesn’t alter the quote’s original meaning.
  2. To make the quotation fit seamlessly into the writer’s sentence or argument.

Are There Any Cautions to Consider When Using Ellipses?

  1. Avoid altering the original intent or meaning of the quotation.
  2. Refrain from overusing ellipses; excessive omissions can make the quote unclear or misleading.
  3. Do not start or end a quotation with ellipses, unless it’s essential to convey that the quote is part of a larger context.

How Do I Use Ellipses After a Complete Sentence?

If you’re omitting content following a complete sentence, the ellipsis points should come after the sentence’s ending punctuation.


Correct: “He enjoyed the evening. . . . They discussed various topics.”

Incorrect: “He enjoyed the evening. . . They discussed various topics.”

Remember, while ellipses help in streamlining quotations, they should be used judiciously to ensure the integrity of the original text remains intact.

Can I Make Changes to Quotations? If So, How to Do I Alert My Readers to Those Changes?

  1. Purpose of Brackets in Quotations: Brackets [ ] are used to insert or alter words in a direct quotation for clarity, explanation, or integration.
  2. Clarifying Meaning with Brackets:
    • Example: “It [driving] imposes a heavy procedural workload on cognition…”
    • Reminder: The word ‘driving’ clarifies the pronoun ‘it’.
  3. Explanatory Inserts with Brackets:
    • Example: “[D]riving imposes a heavy procedural workload [visual and motor demands] on cognition…”
    • Point: Brackets offer deeper insights on the “procedural workload”.
  4. Integrating a Quote with Brackets:
    • Example: Salvucci and Taatgen propose that “[t]he heavy cognitive workload of driving suggests…”
    • Note: The change from uppercase ‘T’ to lowercase ‘t’ is indicated with brackets.
  5. Changing Verb Tense with Brackets:
    • Example: “Drivers [are] increasingly engaging in secondary tasks while driving.”
    • Note: The verb changes from past to present tense, and this change is enclosed in brackets.
  6. Common Mistake to Avoid: Using parentheses () in place of brackets.
    • Incorrect: “It (driving) imposes a heavy procedural workload…”
    • Correct: “It [driving] imposes a heavy procedural workload…”
  7. A Key Caution: Don’t misuse brackets to alter the original text’s intent or meaning. Always represent the author’s intent accurately.
  8. Bracket Use Summary:
    • Do use brackets to enclose inserted words for clarity or brief explanation.
    • Do use brackets to indicate changes in letter case or verb tense.
    • Don’t use parentheses in these scenarios.
    • Never use bracketed material to twist the author’s original meaning.

Remember, the aim is to ensure clarity and respect the original author’s intent while making the quotation fit seamlessly into your writing.

For More Information on Shortening Quotations, See Also:


Mayo Clinic Staff. (2021, December 10). Hand-washing: Do’s and don’ts. Mayo Clinic.

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