Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Quote Week: Incorporating Quotes into Your Research Papers

It's Quote Week in the Writing Center! Many courses end with some kind of writing assignment that asks you to incorporate information from other sources, and that information can often be delivered in the form of quotes from important texts or knowledgeable authorities. Now that we're in week 7 of spring term, you may be gearing up to write a final paper of that sort, so we'll offer some thoughts on how to effectively incorporate quotations from other sources into your academic papers.

Today's suggestion: Have a good reason for the quotation.

Does the quote strongly support your point or argument? Is it something that can't be paraphrased or summarized effectively in your own words? Consider the following example from a made-up paper about how cats make the best pets:
Jane Smith, a clinical psychologist, puts it best when she says, "Cats are the best pets. They're just better than other kinds of pets" (111).
That quote might seem to support your argument, but it doesn't actually do much. If you, as the writer, have already claimed cats make the best pets, then the only reason to use quotes from other sources would be to extend that argument in greater detail. There's no need for an exact quote there.

You could paraphrase her, though, and save an exact quote for important new information from your source, as in the following:
Jane Smith, a clinical psychologist, claims that cats are better than other pets because "cats are an alien race come to earth, and have much to teach us about our place in the universe" (111).
In that example, an exact quote works well because the information is specific and new.

Here's another example of saving direct quotes for important information:

Before:
"If you really think about it without jumping to conclusions or just saying the first thing that flies into your crazy head," Smith says, "cats require less of an owner's time and energy, and are therefore more convenient as pets--you don't have to feel guilty about not taking them for a walk, because they don't want to go for a walk. My cat just wants to sleep on my couch" (112).
After:
Smith also says that because cats require less maintenance, "You don't have to feel guilty about not taking them for a walk, because they don't want to go for a walk" (112).
In the second version, we've cut or summarized the parts of the quote that aren't distinctive, and saved the direct quote for the words that are interesting and more detailed. The writing is tighter and easier to understand, because the essential information isn't lost in an overlong quote or a glut of irrelevant words.

More tomorrow!

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dissertation said...

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