Quotes and Quotations are verbatim repetition of someone’s words. Quotations are denoted via quotation marks.

Quoting is the process of referencing someone else’s ideas, words, and intellectual products. Quoting is a highly prized in communities of practice that place a value on reasoning from evidence and evidence-based-decision-making.

Communities of Practice have distinct citation systems for citing quotes/quotations.

Writers, speakers, knowledge workers . . . use quotations when the quoted material

  1. goes to the heart of your discussion or argument.
  2. is so well-written that it cannot be condensed further.
  3. contains a dramatic eyewitness account of an event.
  4. is written by a prestigious author
  5. contains relevant statistics.
  6. cannot be paraphrased or summarized as elegantly or accurately in your own words.

As an example of a quote worth citing an essay about corporate crime, consider the following snippet

The financial cost [of corporate crime] to society is staggering. The National Association of Attorney Generals reports that fraud costs the nation’s businesses and individuals upwards of $100 billion each year. The Senate Judiciary Committee has estimated that faulty goods, monopolistic practices and other such violations annually cost consumers $174 to $231 billion. Added to this is the $10 to $20 billion a year the Justice Department says taxpayers lose when corporations violate federal regulations. As a rule of thumb, the Bureau of National Affairs estimates that the dollar cost of corporate crime in the United States is more than 10 times greater than the combined total from larcenies, robberies, burglaries and auto thefts committed by individuals.

Mokhiber’s “Crime in the Suites,” corporatepredators.org

This paragraph, for many of the reasons mentioned above, is eminently “quotable.” In other words, you might believe that you could not improve on the wording of this passage, in part because of its reference to specific costs, statistics, etc.

To write effectively for a particular discourse community, you need to double check that you are employing the appropriate citation style. You also need to be sensitive to how others compose in the same discourse space. That’s how you can determine how frequently you can cite, and whether or not you need to power cite. In other words, the extent to which quotes should be used in texts are largely defined by the rhetorical situation, especially the audience (aka the discourse community).

Students—from middle school, college, through graduate school—sometimes believe loads of quotations bring a great deal of credibility, ethos, to the text. Yet the problem is 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.

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.

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.