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Editing a Paper with Direct Quotes: Things You Should Remember

Nov 25, 2013 - Posted to  Writing in General
Along with paraphrase and summary, quotation denotes specific language that has come from someone else. Used in essay writing, it protects authors from accidental plagiarism and gives credit where credit is due. Unlike the quotation marks that are used to indicate speech in fiction, journalism, and other forms of writing, there are different rules when it comes to quoting another person's exact words in an academic essay.
The following guidelines cover the standard usage of direct quotation marks in academic essay writing. The difference between direct and indirect quotations is that direct quotations incorporate passages that were taken verbatim from a source, while indirect quotations are rephrased (paraphrased) or summarized passages that were altered by the paper's author.

General Rules for Use

  1. Like ordinary quotation marks, those that are used to quote sources always come in pairs. When editing your paper, make sure you never open a quotation and neglect to close it.
  2. When quoting a complete sentence, make sure that the first letter of the quote is capitalized.
  3. There is no need to use a capital letter when the source material is a fragment or a partial quote.
  4. When you interrupt a direct quotation in the middle of the sentence and then return to it, there is no need to capitalize the second half of the quotation.
  5. All concluding punctuation, whether comma, period, question mark, etc., must appear before the final, closed quotation mark. (Punctuation rules may vary based on the style guide you are using.)
  6. When you encounter a text with an obvious spelling or grammatical error, do not correct it. All direct quotes must be added exactly as written; instead, insert the word sic after the error and enclose it in square brackets. A Latin terms that means "thus," so" or "just as that," sic lets readers know that the quote is identical to the original and that the error is not yours.
  7. Do not use too many direct quotations in your paper, as they will limit the amount of original material, which is what your instructors want to see. They do not want to read reports that rely too heavily on the thoughts and ideas of others. Therefore, you should use direct quotations sparingly, and keep them short when you do.
  8. Instead of direct quotations, paraphrase or summarize long passages that contain several salient points. This will give you greater control over your paper and allow you to state things as you want them without being constrained by the original text.
  9. Use direct quotations when an author says something better than you ever could. But always make certain that the quote is relevant to your topic. In other words, don't just add quotations because you think you have to. That's surefire way to end up with a poorly-focused paper.
  10. The best time to use a direct quotation is after you've made an important point. Adding a quote from a luminary in the field can strengthen what you have to say. Just make sure you introduce them and that your sentences flow smoothly from your words to ones quoted.

Rules for Long Quotations

Before you include a quotation that runs more than two sentences long, you must find out which style manual you must use-APA, Chicago, MLA, etc. Some instructors may prefer single line spacing for long quotations, and all will insist that you leave out the quotation marks.
  • APA standards: When a quotation is longer than 40 words, indent each line of the quotation five spaces, and double-space it.
  • Chicago standards: When a quotation is two or more sentences and longer than four typed lines, indent each ling four spaces from the left margin, and use single spacing within the quotation.
  • MLA standards: When a quotation is longer than four typed lines, indent a full ten spaces from the left margin, and use double-spacing within the quotation. The end of the last sentence should be marked with a colon, which denotes the end of the quotation and the continuation of your own writing.

How to Alter Direct Quotations

There are many instances where, if added without alteration, a direct quotation wouldn't make any sense. For example, when a quotation refers to a person, but uses a pronoun such as "he" or "she" in place of their name, there's no way the reader can know who the author is talking about. Fortunately, the rules allow you to make minor changes and enclose them in square brackets.
Here's an example
"America has had many fine presidents, but [Lincoln] may be the finest of them all." (Doe)
In the original quote, the author most likely used "he" to refer to Abraham Lincoln, the subject of his work, whose name had almost certainly been mentioned previously. It is also important to note that for quotations within quotations, you must use single quotation marks instead of double ones.
For example,
if Lincoln were described as "The Great Emancipator" within a quotation, we would have to change it to 'The Great Emancipator.'

How to Use Parts of Quotations

Even in long research papers, it is fairly uncommon for writers to use full and complete quotations. More often than not, they select certain parts of a passage, including fragments, phrases, and incomplete sentences. Breaks in quoting must be marked with ellipsis points, which may be used differently depending on the style manual. In general, however, writers must use a blank space, three ellipsis points, followed by another space when material is omitted from the middle of a sentence. When skipping between sentences, use three ellipsis points followed by four blank spaces to indicate that material has been omitted.
Here's an example
America has had many fine presidents, but [Lincoln] may be the finest of them all....Known as 'The Great Emancipator,' Lincoln freed the slaves...he ended the Civil War...Lincoln helped move the country forward. (Doe 42)
By Kevin Demlon. Kevin is a good writer. His coaching through articles helped a lot of students and he is always open for new challenges.
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