Don’t Drop Quotes

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One of the skills college writers need is the ability to work with sources. Students need to be able to paraphrase, summarize, and quote, and in order to do that they need to be able to integrate such content into the fabric of their own writing. Typically, most college writers can work in paraphrased or summarized content, but when it comes to integrating direct quotations, many writers drop them into paragraphs without giving such treatment another thought. What’s wrong with that? “Students frequently overuse direct quotation, and as a result, many research papers are merely a hodgepodge of what others have written. While direct quotes have their purpose, such content should be used with restraint so that the student’s voice becomes an integral part of the paper” (Malarkey, 2019, para. 13).

That’s why direct quotations should not be dropped into a paragraph. While the content of the quote I just read is loosely related to what I am discussing, it is plopped into the paragraph without any kind of contextual-setting, or lead-in text, as if the quote itself should be enough to make the point. What’s important for students to keep in mind when integrating a direct quotation is the three-part sequence of establishing context, integrating the quoted content, and commenting on the relevance of the quote to the point the writer is trying to make.

Dropped quotes, which I call island quotes and others call floating quotes, are problematic not only because they confuse readers, but also because they disrupt the flow of the writing. Dropping a quote into a paragraph is like a driver encountering a speedbump: what had been a delightfully smooth and pleasant journey is suddenly jarring and disorienting. Writers want their papers to be easy to read, and they need to guide the reader so that context, quotation, and commentary connect seamlessly (and of course grammatically) with the quote. 

The Purdue Global Writing Center points out that when quoting, the writer should “use signal phrases in the narrative of the sentence to integrate the ideas of others . . . instead of just dropping quotations into [the] text.”

Some writers think plopping down a quote after a few statements supports a point, but that is not the case, for writers need to make their case by carefully integrating the quote–evidence–into the narrative of the sentence and then following the content with commentary in which writers explain the significance of the quote to the point they are trying to make. What’s essential to remember is that merely dropping a quote into a paragraph does not do the job the writer might think. 

Here are a few tips for integrating quotations in your own papers. 

Quote only quoteworthy content. What’s “quoteworthy” content? Quoteworthy content is an idea that would lose its value if it were presented any other way. Imagine Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream Speech” without him actually saying “I have a dream.” 

Provide context. Refer to the author by last name and include other essential contextual information leading up to the quote. Clements (2021) suggested to “refer to the author by last name ….”

Quote sentence parts. Many fall into the pitfall of quoting complete sentences when key phrases would suffice. 

Use a formula. Sometimes a formula can help writers integrate quotations smoothly and correctly. X (date of publication) argued/discussed/questioned/some other verb that “insert quote” (page or paragraph number). 

What students need to realize is that their ideas and interpretations and understanding matter, and dumping a quote into a paragraph allows for none of that. Writers need to be the authority of the papers they write. With focus on the students’ thesis, they can learn to avoid dropping quotes into their papers.

Until next week– 

Kurtis Clements

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