In Other [People's] Words... part 2

Contributed by Janette Siu on 24 January 2009 at 13:36

Welcome back for another semester at Case Western Reserve University, and another installment of information on correct quotation! Picking up right where we left off...

5) Omit part of a quote with an ellipsis or alter it with brackets. Of course, a quote should only be altered for clarification or to make the grammar agree with the quote's place in your paper's sentence; any alterations should not change the meaning of the quote. Going back to Old McDonald's email, you see that he said, "The milk cows are probably the most useful creatures on the farm, because they produce both milk and calves. I love them; they are my favorites because they are such sweet creatures." You could quote him like this:

Old McDonald said, "I love [the milk cows] ... they are such sweet creatures."

Here, you have clarified the otherwise unclear pronoun "them" and you have omitted the part of the sentence that you did not think was necessary to make your point, without changing the original meaning of the sentence.

You could also use brackets to change a verb so that its tense agrees with your paper's sentence. For example, you could write,

When we went to see the milk cows, I remembered that Old McDonald had said that "they [were] such sweet creatures."

However, you can sometimes eliminate the need to alter a quote by rearranging the sentence. The above sentence could be changed very simply by quoting a smaller fragment of Old McDonald's sentence, like this:

When we went to see the milk cows, I remembered that Old McDonald had said that they were "such sweet creatures."

Of course, if the rearranged sentence sounds awkward, it is better to make your paper easier to read, in which case you should just alter the quote.

6) Finally, long quotations should be formatted in block quotes. The definition of "long" varies depending on what style you're using; if your professor specified a style, Google "block quotes" and the style name. If your professor did not specify a style, MLA format is widely accepted; in MLA, if a quote is four lines or more, it should be formatted as a block quote. That means it should be indented one inch from the left margin. However, don't indent the first line of the quote any more than the others, and don't use quotation marks around the block quote. If the phrase introducing the block quote is a full sentence, end it with a colon, but if it is an incomplete sentence that is completed by the quote, no punctuation is necessary. An excellent example with detailed rules for block quotes can be found here.


Another excellent reference on quotations, including the rules given here and much more, can be found here. You can also find information on when to quote and how to cite quotations in "In Other [People's] Words" Part 3. By practicing proper quotations, the pupil can prevail over a paper's punctuation!

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