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Skill Building: Responsible, Purposeful Quoting

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Choosing to Quote or Paraphrase

It may not seem like it, but quoting is a skill. What’s so hard—you may ask—about repeating what someone else has already said? First of all, quoting is not merely repeating another person’s words. It’s incorporating those words into your own essay, response, or summary. Quotes should be chosen carefully; they are moments where you want to not only represent what another person has said, but also how they have said it.

For example, if I wanted to refer to the first paragraph of Vershawn Ashanti Young’s essay about being a black man in America, I could write:
Paraphrase: Vershawn Ashanti Young opens his essay by detailing his envy of other black men, and how he wishes he could walk and speak in the casual, cool manner they do.
This is a good paraphrase as it gets to the heart of what the text is saying/doing in the opening paragraph. I’ve decided that in this case, what he is saying is more important than how he is saying it.

Later on, I might want to quote Young:

Quote: “I didn’t have to fight to get out of the ghetto. I was kicked out” (Young 55).
To me, this is a good candidate for a quote because what he’s saying, and how he is saying it, is extremely powerful. This quote can then be examined for meaning by the reader—why does he phrase it this way? He usually writes in long, fluid sentences; why is he so blunt here? What inferences can be made about that?

In other words, use quotes deliberately. Ask yourself honestly: is the author saying it best? Is this a critical moment that can be examined for meaning?

One rule—especially helpful if you are working with nonfiction—is that if your quote is just pure explanation, it is best to paraphrase it. For example, the quote “His graduation speech to the Stanford University class of 2005” would be a bad line to quote, as the writer is just conveying information you could easily paraphrase. There is nothing special about how the author is saying it.

In other words, whether summarizing fiction or nonfiction, don’t use quotes purely for conveying information. Use them because they are important, and you want to explain their significance to the reader.

How to use quotations

I have often told students to use the “quote sandwich”: imagine the quote as the filling, with your own words on either side of it, like the bread. In other words, you don’t just want to drop in a quote without explanation or introduction. You want to surround it with your writing.

A more specific way to think of it is by using the acronym ICE.

ICE stands for

Introduce
Cite
Explain
Introduce:

Give the reader any necessary background information that they may need to understand the quotation. Sometimes, it’s enough to know who said it, but often you also need to introduce some context.

Here is an example: When referencing the commencement speech Steve Jobs made at Stanford, Tokumitsu notes that, “the words ‘you’ and ‘your’ appear eight times.” Imagine how confusing it would be if the writer just wrote:

Tokumitsu notes that, “the words ‘you’ and ‘your’ appear eight times.” Your reader would be thinking: What? Who keeps saying “you”? What does this mean?

Here is a poor example,

“Food remains a primary conduit through which I hope to instill in him the lessons of one half of his ethnic roots” (Ahn 23). Without any introduction, this quote appears to come out of nowhere and doesn’t provide proof.

Here’s an example of it introduced better.

Roy Ahn wants to teach his son Charlie about his Korean heritage through food to connect Charlie not only to his cultural heritage but also to Roy Ahn’s parents. Ahn states, “Food remains a primary conduit through which I hope to instill in him the lessons of one half of his ethnic roots” (Ahn 23).

Introductory words or phrases are important!

Cite:

Cite means quoting exactly, word-for-word, what the author is saying. It also means, “cite your sources,” as in, give credit to the author by referencing their last name, either in the sentence itself, or at the end of the sentence, in parentheses. Also include page numbers, if applicable. Online sources, for example, will not have page numbers.

In this class, you are expected to use MLA formatting. If you have questions about how to use MLA properly, visit the Purdue OWL online. Select “Research and Citation” in the left-hand menu.

As noted above, it’s important that you quote the writer exactly; otherwise, you will be guilty of misrepresenting what the author said. However, it’s also important that when you cite, the quote flows (grammatically) with the rest of your sentence, as noted on the next page.

Consider the following example:

Young talks about feeling like a man, “Because the barbershop is a masculine space, the performance of heterosexuality is the gold standard” (54).
The above sentence is a bad example of incorporating a quote into a sentence. The sentence has no flow.

Now consider the following:

A quote from Young says, “Because the barbershop is a masculine space, the performance of heterosexuality is the gold standard” (54).
Young quotes, “Because the barbershop is a masculine space, the performance of heterosexuality is the gold standard” (54).
The above examples are also bad! The sentences have no flow, and the author doesn’t “quote.” You are quoting the author.

Finally, consider this sentence:

Young explains that, “Because the barbershop is a masculine space, the performance of heterosexuality is the gold standard” (54).
Good! When read aloud, this reads as one, fluid thought or sentence. Sometimes, you may have to edit or play with the quotation to make it fit grammatically.

It’s important to cite your sources even if you are paraphrasing or summarizing the information.

Editing a Quotation

To delete or eliminate parts in the middle of a quotation, use ellipses (…). To add your own words, such as including nouns or pronouns, use brackets to indicate the words are not the author’s [ ].

Original quote:

“Thus in addition to enchantment, I felt a conflicting fusion of fortune and tribulation—fortune because my language and demeanor often mark me as educated, separating me from those who exemplify the stigmatized (and paradoxically romanticized) black male profile, and consequently excusing me, though certainly not always, from the plight that follows that image. I am troubled because the black men who suffer most from the educational and judicial systems are poor, from the underclass, from the ghetto, like me” (Young 52).
Using ellipses and brackets:

Young explains that he, “felt a conflicting fusion of fortune and tribulation—fortune because [his] language and demeanor often mark [him] as educated…troubled because the black men who suffer most from the educational and judicial systems are poor, from the underclass, from the ghetto, like [him]” (52).
Explain: Don’t just leave your reader hanging. If the quote is really complex or difficult, put the quote into your own words with a phrase like, “In other words…” Then, explain how the quote is relevant to the point you want to make. Make the connection to your thesis clear (if you are writing a traditional essay), or explain how/why the quote is significant to the overall piece (if you are writing a summary). If a quote is not particularly complex, you do not need to rephrase it, but connecting it to your own work and explaining its significance is necessary.

To use a previous example:

When referencing the commencement speech Steve Jobs made at Stanford, Tokumitsu notes that, “the words ‘you’ and ‘your’ appear eight times.” She makes this observation to show that the idea of “Do What You Love,” and Jobs’ advice, is self-centered—focusing on what “you” the individual wants, rather than what matters to the community, or helps a greater good.
Notice that I’m not just quoting, and then leaving the reader to connect the dots, and figure out what I mean. I explain why the author (Tokumitsu) says this, and why it’s important to her overall argument.

BONUS

Students will often ask, what happens if you want to quote within a quote? Use single quotes inside the double quotation marks.

Example:

Young notes that he’s not the first person to write about this sort of identity crisis. He describes the experience of writer Shelly Eversley, and how, “One moment she spoke as an ‘imitation white woman,’ and after a switch of the tongue, she became an authentically black one” (Young 53).
Notice that I also give some background (introducing) who Eversley is and why he is referencing her. While it is not advised that you use long quotations (more than two lines), there may be some occasions where you do need to use a long or a block quotation.

_______________________

COMPLETE:

Using what you just learned about ICE, write down three quotes from “Our National Eating Disorder.” Introduce, cite, and explain them. For example, I will give you a quote from “Four Menus” using ICE.

Squillante writes, “Food is love,” and throughout the essay, she shows how food is love in several different ways.

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