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Direct Quotation

Knowing how to quote correctly is key to avoiding plagiarism. Words that are an exact copy of the original should always be identified by quotation marks or, for longer quotes, set-off in an indented paragraph. The requirement to put quotation marks around material that has been exactly copied is the form of acknowledgement with which most people are familiar. However, while proper quotation will avoid plagiarism, it does not necessarily result in a good paper.

Students are often told to use direct quotes when they feel the original author’s phrasing expresses the idea so well that no better expression can be found. This is good advice. Unfortunately, students who are uncomfortable with their own writing style are often inclined to over-use quotes on the theory that they cannot improve on the original author. The result can be a ‘Frankenstein’ paper that is little more than a string of quotes sewn together by a few transition sentences. Even if every quote is adequately cited, the overall paper will feel plagiarized since the student has not written anything new.

Each field of study has specific guidelines about direct quotation. For instance, direct quotation is often discouraged in the sciences, which prefer paraphrasing. Students can check with their professor on the preferred style in their discipline.

Most quotes should be very short. A short quote is usually consider to be under two lines in length with the fewer the words the better. Even longer quotes should be as brief as possible. In general, the use of quotes should be kept to a minimum.

Short quote example

Remember that using quotes does not relieve you of the responsibility of expressing the ideas for yourself. Usually, a longer direct quote — one set off in an indented paragraph — should be accompanied by your own paraphrase of the quoted passage. This shows your reader how you interpret the passage and draws out the points that you think are worth emphasizing. Shorter direct quotes — those under two lines in length — do not usually need to be paraphrased, but may be used effectively as part of a paraphrase. Since you need to paraphrase anyway, there is no point using long direct quotes unless:

  1. the point is so important that it is worth saying twice (once by you and once by the original author),
  2. you need to document that the original author really does say what you claim she says,  (since it is a surprising or out of character thing for this author to say), or
  3. the original author’s turn of phrase is so clever or so apt at expressing the idea in question that you cannot resist sharing it with your reader.

Long quote example

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Last updated 10/22/2008 by Sue Thompson, Toni Olivas
Cal State San Marcos Library