Used effectively, quotations can provide important pieces of evidence and lend fresh voices and perspectives to
your narrative. Used ineffectively, however, quotations clutter your text and interrupt the flow of your argument.
This handout will help you decide when to quote and how to quote like a pro.
When should I quote?
Use quotations at strategically selected moments. You have probably been told by teachers to provide as much
evidence as possible in support of your thesis. But packing your paper with quotations will not necessarily
strengthen your argument. The majority of your paper should still be your original ideas in your own words (after
all, it's your paper). And quotations are only one type of evidence: well-balanced papers may also make use of
paraphrases, data, and statistics. The types of evidence you use will depend in part on the conventions of the
discipline or audience for which you are writing. For example, papers analyzing literature may rely heavily on direct
quotations of the text, while papers in the social sciences may have more paraphrasing, data, and statistics than
1. Discussing specific arguments or ideas.
Sometimes, in order to debate with clarity and specificity the ideas of others, you need to quote those ideas word for
word. So, suppose you want to challenge the following statement made by John Doe, a well-known historian:
At the beginning of World War Two, almost all Americans assumed the war would end quickly.
If it is especially important that you formulate a counter-argument to this claim, then you might wish to quote the
part of the statement that you find questionable and establish a dialogue between yourself and John Doe:
Historian John Doe has argued that in 1941 "almost all Americans assumed the war would end quickly"
(Doe 223). Yet during the first six months of U.S. involvement, the wives and mothers of soldiers often
noted in their diaries their fear that the war would drag on for years.
2. Giving added emphasis to a particularly authoritative source on your topic.
There will be times when you want to highlight the words of a particularly important and authoritative source on
your topic. For example, suppose you were writing an essay about the differences between the lives of male and
female slaves in the U.S. South. One of your most provocative sources is a narrative written by a former slave,
Harriet Jacobs. It would then be appropriate to quote some of Jacobs's words:
Harriet Jacobs, a former slave from North Carolina, published an autobiographical slave narrative in 1861.
She exposed the hardships of both male and female slaves but ultimately concluded that "slavery is
terrible for men; but it is far more terrible for women."
In this particular example, Jacobs is providing a crucial first-hand perspective on slavery. Thus, her words deserve
more exposure than a paraphrase could provide.
Jacobs quoted in Harriet A. Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, ed. Jean Fagan Yellin