In Other [People's] Words... part 3

Contributed by Janette Siu on 06 February 2009 at 11:32

"In Other [People's] Words" Part 1 and Part 2 gave a lot of rules about punctuating and formatting quotes, but what is the process of quoting that happens before and after you actually use a quote in your paper? Here's some hints on how to decide when to quote, and how to cite the original works in your bibliography.

When to quote:
When making an argument, you should always use evidence from other sources to back up your opinion. That doesn't mean, however, that you should always include a quote. Over-quoting can make your paper sound choppy, and it can be tiring for your reader; often, paraphrasing will do just as well. Some situations in which a quote is a good idea would be:

1) When the original wording is very unique.
2) When the original wording is better than any way you could say it.
3) When you want to use a passage that has a lot of statistics.

As a general rule, you can remember this guideline: When the ideas are really good, paraphrase it; when the words are really good, quote it.

How to cite works:
How you cite works depends on which writing style your professor would like you to use. (Google the style name and "citation" to find details on the correct formatting.) If he or she does not specify a writing style, MLA is always a good standard to use.

In MLA, there are two parts to citation: the in-text citations and the bibliography. In-text citations are required whenever you get material from another source, whether it's a quote or a paraphrase of that source. Usually, you include a brief reference to identify the work (most often the author's last name) and the page number that the material came from, like this:

Some cows are known to have eccentric personalities and surprising levels of intelligence, which makes them good pets (McDonald 32).

Note that the reference comes before the ending punctuation, is enclosed in parentheses, and uses only the page number (not "page 32" or "p. 32"). You don't have to include the author's name in the citation, though, if you mentioned it in your sentence already, like this:

As Old McDonald writes in The Beauty of the Cow, some cows are known to have eccentric personalities and surprising levels of intelligence, which makes them good pets (32).

The punctuation starts to get tricky when you quote sources instead of just paraphrasing. The citation goes after the closing quotation mark, but you move the ending punctuation to after the citation, like this:

Old McDonald writes, "I have known cows that would have made great pets, because of their oddball personalities. Some are actually very smart, too, which is also a good characteristic for a pet" (32).

However, if the quote ends in a question mark or an exclamation point, you keep that punctuation inside the quotation mark, but add a period after the citation, like this:

Old McDonald expresses his passion for cows when he writes, "Bovine does not mean bland!" (17).

You should ONLY do this if the question mark or exclamation point was in the original text; if you are adding the punctuation yourself, use the first rule (where you put the ending punctuation after the citation).

A helpful website with information on MLA in-text citations is here. Scroll to the bottom of the page for links to other useful sections on this website.

The other half of citing works is the bibliography page. A writing handbook, such as Andrea A. Lunsford's The Everyday Writer, is probably your best resource, but some online resources such as this one can also be very useful. Guidelines for writing your bibliography can be found all over the internet; just make sure that you're looking at a credible website (usually .edu domains are reliable). Also, try to use websites that have been updated recently, because occasionally MLA will make a slight change to the rules.

With that, we conclude our series on quotations... at least for now. Because this is a subject with so many nuances, we could fill books with all the ins and outs of using other people's ideas. However, this series has hopefully captured the most important guidelines and helped to answer some of the FAQ of quotations. Therefore, go forth with confidence and quote! (Or Google the answer when you don't know.)

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