Using Quotes in a Paper: The Right, the Wrong, and the Wait-a-Minute

Ahh… quotations. The academic writer’s savior, right? If you finish your draft and your paper’s just a little too short, it’s tempting to think you can just pop some of those babies in there, and bam, shoot up to A range. Well… no. Actually, we in academic writing can tell when you’re doing that, and it counts against you, not for you. So, just what are you supposed to do with them if not lengthen short papers? Let’s go over some wrong and right ways to use quotations (or quotes as we like to call them for short).

Improperly incorporated quotes are like these poles, supporting nothing.
Improperly incorporated quotes are like these poles, supporting nothing.

Some more things quotes can’t do:

They can’t be the beginning or end of your paragraph, section, or worst of all, your entire paper.

Never-never-never start with a quote. The first words of your paper, section, or paragraph should always be your own. Ditto for the last words.

They can’t be sentences all by themselves.

This rule isn’t always strictly applied in academic writing, but it comes up enough to be on your guard about it. Many professors don’t want to see what they call “dropped quotes,” where the quote is just dropped in as a complete sentence and not incorporated into a sentence of your own. Here’s some examples. Please note that these are meant to be part of a larger paragraph, not entire paragraphs themselves.*

Wrong: Ice cream is a popular treat. “I love it myself. I eat ice cream everyday” (Dowell, 2013, p.4).

Right: Ice cream is a popular treat. Dowell (2013) expresses her love of the frozen dessert: “I love it myself. I eat ice cream everyday” (p. 4).

What can they do?

Quotes are support. That’s really the heart of these quotation rules. Professors want to see you make your points. They want to see you write your topic sentences for each paragraph. Bring in quotes to back up what you say; don’t let the quotes do the work. It’s your paper. Own it.

Wait! I saw in XYZ magazine…

One of the most confusing things about these quotation conventions is that professional writers break them all the time. They start with quotes, end with quotes, drop ‘em right in. But these quotes are all enhancement. Professional writers never let the quotes make points for them. Is it fair to assume students can’t do the same? No. Are these rules likely to change anytime soon? Also no. Unfortunately, you’ll have to play the game until you’re out of school.

What do you think? Weigh in below in the comment section. How have you used quotes effectively or ineffectively? If you’re an educator passing this on to your students, what do you think about these academic traditions for using quotes?

*Also note, these sentences are terrible.

Photo Credit: oatsy40, Creative Commons

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *