Contact FutureLearn for Support
Skip main navigation
We use cookies to give you a better experience, if that’s ok you can close this message and carry on browsing. For more info read our cookies policy.
We use cookies to give you a better experience. Carry on browsing if you're happy with this, or read our cookies policy for more information.

How to use direct quotations

An effective quotation will express your idea succinctly, and have an impact on the reader. There is a danger, however, in using too many quotations within your work without careful consideration. Whilst adding lots of quotations in this way may give the impression that you know what others are saying within your field, you could be in danger of your own voice becoming lost and the reader wondering what point you are trying to make. You need therefore to integrate quotations thoughtfully within your work.

If you are studying on a degree programme, it is a good idea to seek guidance on how much direct quotation you are allowed to use in an assignment.

Where do we use quotations?

One way to do this would be to follow a structure when writing. One such structure could be described as a ‘quotation sandwich’. Here you see the quotation is sandwiched between the point that you wish to make and then interpreting and commenting on the quotation itself and showing how it supports the point of view that you initially state; as in this example. Before using a quotation you need to think about whether a quotation is really required, or whether your work would benefit more from you writing the evidence out in your own words as a paraphrase. As mentioned, quotations generally should be used sparingly but there are instances when using a quotation may be particularly effective.

Column one: The skills required for good critical thinking are widely debated.  However, according to Cottrell (2005: 5) ‘Critical thinking usually benefits from background research’.  This suggests the more knowledge you have on a subject, the more you are able to take a critical stance. Column two: YOU: Introduce the point you want to make. QUOTATION: referenced correctly, Use exact wording.YOU: Comment on the evidence, Show how this supports your point.

When do we use quotations?

If you are describing a term, perhaps offering a definition, then a quotation may be appropriate. The same is true if the choice of words the author used is particularly important, as in words within laws or guidelines. In addition, if you were going to analyse a quotation at some length, offering your own interpretation, then using quotations would be appropriate. You must though ensure you reference these correctly.

The involvement of the private sector in providing water supply can take many different forms.  According to Sohail Khan and Cotton (2003) in the water sector the term Public-Private Partnership (Direct quotation:) ‘is used as a general term to cover a wide range of agreements or partnerships made between private sector concerns, public sector utilities, government departments and civil society/consumer groups in relation to the delivery of water and sanitation services’.

© Sohail Khan, M. & Cotton, A. (2003). Public Private Partnerships and the poor in water supply projects. WELL website. Retrieved September 11 2017.

Using short quotations

When using a short quotation you generally need to remember four things:

  • author’s surname

  • year of publication

  • page number (if appropriate)

  • quotation marks.

This example follows the Harvard style of referencing; your work may look different if you are following a different referencing style. The idea is that the reader is given sufficient information to follow your research footprints back to your bibliography and the original source.

Column one: The skills required for good critical thinking are widely debated.  However, according to Cottrell (2005: 5) ‘Critical thinking usually benefits from background research’.  This suggests the more knowledge you have on a subject, the more you are able to take a critical stance. Column two: Author's surname, Year of publication, Page number if appropriate, Quotation marks

Using long quotations

Long quotations, those generally over four lines, require slightly different formatting. Again you need the author’s surname and year of publication and page number, if appropriate. However, in this instance you do not use quotation marks. Instead the text is indented to signify that it is a quotation. This gives the reader enough information to follow your trail back to your bibliography and your original source.

Column one: The high costs of improving the infrastructure, set against the obvious need to keep tariffs low, makes it difficult to make technological changes leading to greater efficiency.  As  Kessides (2004: 220) explains; (slightly indented for quote)Despite the significant scope for better performance, the sector’s economic and technological characteristics disallow the possibility of an institutional “magic bullet” that would significantly increase efficiency. Ultimately, designing and sustaining effective water reforms depend on managing the political agenda. (Indent over) Thus, finding ways to make investment by private companies attractive, while ensuring sufficient regulation to protect the interests of consumers, is a complex challenge for governments. Column two: Indented, No quotation marks, Author, year and page number

© Kessides, I. (2004). Reforming Infrastructure: Privatization, Regulation, and Competition World Bank Policy Research Report. Retrieved September 11, 2017.

More on the format of quotations

You must use the exact wording of the quotation including the punctuation that is used. If you wish to miss any parts of the sentence, you must use ellipses (…), as in this example.

As Henry (2010) claims ‘We shouldn’t accept all that we read…..questioning is a human skill that we must preserve’.

If you wish to add any additional words, perhaps to make sense of the quotation once you have removed some parts of it, or to add back in the context, then use square brackets to indicate the part of the quotation that is in fact your own words. Here is an example.

It is often argued that ‘[social injustice] will always exist in capitalist societies’ (Murphy 2011:4)

Summary

  • Use quotations sparingly within your work and when you do use them remember to always comment on them.

  • Make sure you use the exact wording and punctuation.

  • Indicate when you are omitting or adding words of your own.

  • Provide information on the author, year and page number.

  • For short quotations, also include quotation marks.

  • For long quotations, indent the quotation instead of using quotation marks.

  • Put full details of the source within the bibliography.

Share this article:

This article is from the free online course:

An Intermediate Guide to Writing in English for University Study

University of Reading