Writing An Essay In Response To A Quote

Using literary quotations

Use the guidelines below to learn how to use literary quotations.


 

For further information, check out Quoting, Paraphrasing, and Acknowledging Sources, or you may wish to see when the Writing Center is next offering its workshop entitled Intro to Literary Analysis.

Incorporating Quotations

  • As you choose quotations for a literary analysis, remember the purpose of quoting.

  • Your paper develops an argument about what the author of the text is doing--how the text "works."

  • You use quotations to support this argument; that is, you select, present, and discuss material from the text specifically to "prove" your point--to make your case--in much the same way a lawyer brings evidence before a jury.

  • Quoting for any other purpose is counterproductive.

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Punctuating and Indenting Quotations

For the most part, you must reproduce the spelling, capitalization, and internal punctuation of the original exactly.

The following alterations are acceptable:

Changing the closing punctuation

You may alter the closing punctuation of a quotation in order to incorporate it into a sentence of your own:

"Books are not life," Lawrence emphasized.

Commas and periods go inside the closing quotation marks; the other punctuation marks go outside.

Lawrence insisted that books "are not life"; however, he wrote exultantly about the power of the novel.

Why does Lawrence need to point out that "Books are not life"?

Using the slash when quoting poetry

When quoting lines of poetry up to three lines long (which are not indented, see Indenting quotations), separate one line of poetry from another with a slash mark (see examples in Incorporating Quotations into Sentences).

Using Ellipsis Points for Omitted Material

If for the sake of brevity you wish to omit material from a quoted passage, use ellipsis points (three spaced periods) to indicate the omission.

(See this sample paragraph. The writer quoted only those portions of the original sentences that related to the point of the analysis.)

Using Square Brackets when Altering Material

When quoting, you may alter grammatical forms such as the tense of a verb or the person of a pronoun so that the quotation conforms grammatically to your own prose; indicate these alterations by placing square brackets around the changed form.

In the following quotation "her" replaces the "your" of the original so that the quote fits the point of view of the paper (third person):

When he hears Cordelia's answer, Lear seems surprised, but not dumbfounded. He advises her to "mend [her] speech a little." He had expected her to praise him the most; but compared to her sisters', her remarks seem almost insulting (1.1.95).

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Indenting Quotations

Prose or verse quotations less than four lines long are not indented. For quotations of this length, use the patterns described above.

Indent "longer" quotations in a block about ten spaces in from the left margin; when a quotation is indented, quotation marks are not used.

The MLA Handbook (1995) recommends that indented quotations be double-spaced, but many instructors prefer them single-spaced. The meaning of "longer" varies slightly from one style system to another, but a general rule is to indent quotations that are more than two (or three) lines of verse or three (or four) lines of prose.

Indent dialogue between characters in a play. Place the speaker's name before the speech quoted:

CAESAR: Et tu, Brute! Then, fall, Caesar!

CINNA: Liberty! Freedom! Tyranny is dead! (3.1.77-78)

For more information see Quoting, Paraphrasing, and Acknowledging Sources - How to Quote a Source.

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Emphasizing Your Ideas

What to include in literary analysis

Take a look at this sample paragraph. It includes 3 basic kinds of materials:

  1. statements expressing the student's own ideas about the relationship Woolf is creating;

  2. data or evidence from the text in summarized, paraphrased, and quoted form; and

  3. discussion of how the data support the writer's interpretation.

The quotations are used in accordance with the writer's purpose, i.e. to show how the development of Mrs. Ramsey's feelings indicates something about her personality.

Should I quote?

Quoting is only one of several ways to present textual material as evidence.

You can also refer to textual data, summarize, and paraphrase. You will often want merely to refer or point to passages (as in the third sentence in the sample paragraph) that contribute to your argument.

In other cases you will want to paraphrase, i.e. "translate" the original into your own words, again instead of quoting. Summarize or paraphrase when it is not so much the language of the text that justifies your position, but the substance or content.

Quote selectively

Similarly, after you have decided that you do want to use material in quoted form, quote only the portions of the text specifically relevant to your point.

Think of the text in terms of units--words, phrases, sentences, and groups of sentences (paragraphs, stanzas)--and use only the units you need.

If it is particular words or phrases that "prove" your point, you do not need to quote the sentences they appear in; rather, incorporate the words and phrases into sentences expressing your own ideas.

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Maintaining Clarity and Readability

Introduce your quotations

Introduce a quotation either by indicating what it is intended to show or by naming its source, or both.

For non-narrative poetry, it's customary to attribute quotations to "the speaker"; for a story with a narrator, to "the narrator."

For plays, novels, and other works with characters, identify characters as you quote them.

Do not use two quotations in a row, without intervening material of your own.

For further information see Quoting, Paraphrasing, and Acknowledging Sources - How to Quote a Source.

Pay attention to verb tense

Tense is a tricky issue. It's customary in literary analysis to use the present tense; it is at the present time that you (and your reader) are looking at the text.

But events in a narrative or drama take place in a time sequence. You will often need to use a past tense to refer to events that took place before the moment you are presently discussing:

When he hears Cordelia's answer, Lear seems surprised, but not dumbfounded. He advises her to "mend [her] speech a little." He had expected her to praise him the most; but compared to her sisters', her remarks seem almost insulting (1.1.95).

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Documenting Quotations

Follow your course instructor's guidelines for documenting sources. If your instructor hasn't told you which system to use to document sources, ask.

Keep in mind that when you are writing a paper about the same text and quoting from the same edition that everyone else in the class is, instructors will often allow you to use informal documentation. In this case just include the page number in parentheses after the quotation or reference to the text. To be sure, though, you should ask your course instructor.

The documentation style used in this pages is that presented in the 1995 MLA Handbook, but other style systems are commonly used. The Writing Center has information about the rules of documentation in general and about a number of the most common systems, such as APA, APSA, CBE, Chicago/Turabian, MLA, and Numbered References.

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From Reading to Writing: Quotation-Comment-Question (Q-C-Q)

Like the DEN Worksheet, the Q-C-Q Worksheet is designed to help you move from reading a text to writing about it. It is most helpful for writing a reading response essay or a discussion board post, though you can adapt it to any assignment. It is designed to slow down your reading process and record your thoughts while you are having them so that when you sit down later to write, you have a record of the ideas that the reading evoked in your mind.

It has three simple steps. Begin reading and when you find a quotation that feels important to you, pause your reading process and:

1. Jot down (or cut and paste) the exact quotation on the left side of the Q-C-Q Worksheet labeled Quotation.

2. Take a moment to comment on why it seems important to you and write a phrase or sentence or two in the middle Comment area. Consider one of the following:

  • What does this make you think of?
  • Do you agree or disagree and why?
  • How does this relate to the theme of the class or class discussion?
  • Any reflections?
  • Is it surprising and why or why not?

3. Then move straight away to the Question section on the right and consider:Then continue reading the article, stopping to add to the worksheet other Quotations, Comments and Questions.

  • Is there something here you do not understand (words, ideas, etc.)?
  • Is there a question you would like to pose to the author?
  • Does the quotation make you question any ideas or assumptions?

When you are finished you will have a record of the most important quotations to you and your thoughts on them. When you sit down to write, you automatically have a place to begin. But how, you ask, do I actually begin using these quotations to write?

C-Q-C: Context—Quotation—Comment

One way to begin writing is to consider using a quotation from your worksheet (be sure to copy the author’s words exactly as they appear and cite accordingly). In order to do that, you must first provide a context for the quotation. Hence, we move from Q-C-Q (Quotation, Comment, Question) to C-Q-C (Context, Quotation, Comment). Hopefully these acronyms will help you remember to always introduce your quotation with a signal phrase after setting up some contextualization. For example, let’s say your Q-C-Q looks like this:

 

QuotationCommentQuestion
“Scientists say juggling e-mail, phone calls and other incoming information can change how people think and behave. They say our ability to focus is being undermined by bursts of information.” (Richtel, n.p.)I think this means that working on multiple tasks at the same time can compromise our ability to focus on just one. This seems true to me.What does that then mean for our culture? What will happen if we can’t focus as well as we used to?

 

  • Provide Context: Use a signal phrase to first introduce the quotation. A signal phrase mentions the author and sometimes the title of the article, essay or book. For example, the text in green below:

Matt Richtel reports in his article “Attached to Technology and Paying a Price” that “Scientists say juggling e-mail, phone calls and other incoming information can change how people think and behave. They say our ability to focus is being undermined by bursts of information” (2010, n.p.).

This is the minimum amount of context you need to provide. However, to make your writing even stronger, you could add more to your contextualization, such as:

In his New York Times article “Attached to Technology and Paying a Price,” Matt Richtel discusses the effects of technology on the people who use it.He writes, “Scientists say juggling e-mail, phone calls and other incoming information can change how people think and behave. They say our ability to focus is being undermined by bursts of information” (2010, n.p.).

  • Above you have the Context and Quotation, so all that is left is for you to Comment, which is actually the most important step. This comment will hopefully lead you in a direction that will advance your essay, providing a ground to build on. Here is an example, in green type:

In his New York Times article “Attached to Technology and Paying a Price,” Matt Richtel discusses the effects of technology on the people who use it. He writes, “Scientists say juggling e-mail, phone calls and other incoming information can change how people think and behave. They say our ability to focus is being undermined by bursts of information” (2010, n.p.). This implies that traits like the ability to focus are in fact changing because of technology, raising important questions about the future of our culture.

  • Now you are no longer facing a blank page. Return to your Q-C-Q Worksheet for other quotations and ideas.

NEXT: Choosing Appropriate Quotes

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