The Writing Center @ The University of Wisconsin - Madison
The Writer's Handbook
Avoiding Plagiarism

How to Quote a Source

Introducing a quotation

One of your jobs as a writer is to guide your reader through your text. Don't simply drop quotations into your paper and leave it to the reader to make connections.

Integrating a quotation into your text usually involves two elements:

  • A signal that a quotation is coming--generally the author's name and/or a reference to the work

  • An assertion that indicates the relationship of the quotation to your text

Often both the signal and the assertion appear in a single introductory statement, as in the example below. Notice how a transitional phrase also serves to connect the quotation smoothly to the introductory statement.

Ross (1993), in her study of poor and working-class mothers in London from 1870-1918 [signal], makes it clear that economic status to a large extent determined the meaning of motherhood [assertion]. Among this population [connection], "To mother was to work for and organize household subsistence" (p. 9).

The signal can also come after the assertion, again with a connecting word or phrase:

Illness was rarely a routine matter in the nineteenth century [assertion]. As [connection] Ross observes [signal], "Maternal thinking about children's health revolved around the possibility of a child's maiming or death" (p. 166).

top

Formatting Quotations

Short direct prose

Incorporate short direct prose quotations into the text of your paper and enclose them in double quotation marks:

According to Jonathan Clarke, "Professional diplomats often say that trying to think diplomatically about foreign policy is a waste of time." 1

Longer prose quotations

Begin longer quotations (for instance, in the APA system, 40 words or more) on a new line and indent the entire quotation (i.e., put in block form), with no quotation marks at beginning or end, as in the quoted passage from our Successful vs. Unsucessful Paraphrases page.

Rules about the minimum length of block quotations, how many spaces to indent, and whether to single- or double-space extended quotations vary with different documentation systems; check the guidelines for the system you're using.

top

Quotation of Up to 3 Lines of Poetry

Quotations of up to 3 lines of poetry should be integrated into your sentence. For example:

In Julius Caesar, Antony begins his famous speech with "Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears; / I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him" (III.ii.75-76).

Notice that a slash (/) with a space on either side is used to separate lines.

Quotation of More than 3 Lines of Poetry

More than 3 lines of poetry should be indented. As with any extended (indented) quotation, do not use quotation marks unless you need to indicate a quotation within your quotation.

top

Punctuating with Quotation Marks

Parenthetical citations

With short quotations, place citations outside of closing quotation marks, followed by sentence punctuation (period, question mark, comma, semi-colon, colon):

Menand (2002) characterizes language as "a social weapon" (p. 115).

With block quotations, check the guidelines for the documentation system you are using.

Commas and periods

Place inside closing quotation marks when no parenthetical citation follows:

Hertzberg (2002) notes that "treating the Constitution as imperfect is not new," but because of Dahl's credentials, his "apostasy merits attention" (p. 85).

Semicolons and colons

Place outside of closing quotation marks (or after a parenthetical citation).

Question marks and exclamation points

Place inside closing quotation marks if the quotation is a question/exclamation:

Menand (2001) acknowledges that H. W. Fowler's Modern English Usage is "a classic of the language," but he asks, "Is it a dead classic?" (p. 114).

[Note that a period still follows the closing parenthesis.]

Place outside of closing quotation marks if the entire sentence containing the quotation is a question or exclamation:

How many students actually read the guide to find out what is meant by "academic misconduct"?

Quotation within a quotation

Use single quotation marks for the embedded quotation:

According to Hertzberg (2002), Dahl gives the U. S. Constitution "bad marks in 'democratic fairness' and 'encouraging consensus'" (p. 90).

[The phrases "democratic fairness" and "encouraging consensus" are already in quotation marks in Dahl's sentence.]

top

Indicating Changes in Quotations

Quoting Only a Portion of the Whole

Use ellipsis points (. . .) to indicate an omission within a quotation--but not at the beginning or end unless it's not obvious that you're quoting only a portion of the whole.

Adding Clarification, Comment, or Correction

Within quotations, use square brackets [ ] (not parentheses) to add your own clarification, comment, or correction.

Use [sic] (meaning "so" or "thus") to indicate that a mistake is in the source you're quoting and is not your own.

top


Notes

1. "The Conceptual Poverty of U.S. Foreign Policy," Atlantic, September 1993, 55.