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Quote your sources accurately

A good academic paper will refer often to its sources, sometimes by paraphrasing (representing what a source says in your own words) and sometimes by quoting (representing what it says verbatim, or in the author’s exact original words).

When you paraphrase, it is essential to use your own words; if you incorporate too many of the author’s words into your paraphrase, then you are not really paraphrasing but quoting without acknowledgement. This is often called “mosaic plagiarism”—“mosaic” because the resulting text is an amalgam of your words and someone else’s, and “plagiarism” because you are not acknowledging the latter. The “common pitfalls” section below gives advice and examples on how to avoid mosaic plagiarism.
When you quote, you must follow these essential rules:

1. Quotations must be clearly identified.

For shorter quotations, use quotation marks: All the original words from the source must be enclosed within quotation marks. This applies even for short quotations of 3-4 words. When you paraphrase a source and use some of the same words as the original, of course you do not need to put quotation marks around every word that comes from the source. But distinctive words and phrases, and most phrases longer than three words, should be treated as quotations and marked with quotation marks. (For more examples, and further advice on how to avoid mosaic plagiarism, see Pitfall 1.)

Original source:
At one time in adolescence I was burning to find satisfaction in hellish pleasures.

Source: Augustine of Hippo, Confessions, II, 2.

Correct quotation:
Augustine recalled, “At one time in adolescence I was burning to find satisfaction in hellish pleasures.”1

When you quote a phrase rather than a full sentence, integrate the quoted words smoothly into your own sentences so that they are still grammatically and logically coherent.

Correct quotation (integrated with your own text):
Augustine recalled his adolescent desire to “to find satisfaction in hellish pleasures.”1

Note that quotation marks do not alter the normal rules of punctuation. Observe the same rules of grammar and punctuation that you would if there were no quotation marks in the sentence! For example, do not splice together two independent clauses with a comma, even if there are quotations around the second one!

Incorrect:
Augustine praised his mother’s character, “she was brought up in modesty and sobriety.”1

Correct:
Augustine praised his mother’s character, recalling that “she was brought up in modesty and sobriety.”1

For longer quotations, use indentation: If the quotation is a long passage of more than 3 lines (or about 30 words), make it a block quotation: indent it by half an inch from both left and right margins, and omit the quotation marks.

Correct use of block quotations:
Edward Gibbon memorably summarized religious belief in first-century Rome as a mixture of superstition and skepticism:

The various modes of worship, which prevailed in the Roman world, were all considered by the people, as equally true; by the philosopher, as equally false; and by the magistrate, as equally useful.1

For advice on how to decide between block quotations and short quotations, see “How to Get Beyond the Block Quotation.”

2. Quotations must be accurate.

Every word and punctuation mark inside quotation marks (or inside an indented block quotation) must be exactly identical to the original text being quoted.

There are many good reasons for altering language, spelling, or punctuation within a direct quotation. You may want to add contextual information, change a verb tense to match the syntax of the surrounding sentence, correct spelling, or shorten a passage for brevity. This is fine, as long as you do not alter the meaning of the original (see above).

But whenever you change the text, even if you preserve the original meaning, you must indicate the change. Use square brackets [ ] to show where you have added or changed words, letters, or punctuation marks. Use elision marks (…) to show where you have omitted words, letters, or punctuation marks.

Here's an example:

Original source:
Hitherto, every form of society has been based, as we have already seen, on the antagonism of oppressing and oppressed classes.

Source: Karl Marx, The Communist Manifesto.

Correct quotation:
Marx argued that “every form of society [was] based… on the antagonism of oppressing and oppressed classes.”1

3. Quotations must identify all speakers accurately.

Accuracy also means presenting a correct account of who said what. If the source that you quote includes different speakers, or quotes another source, you must correctly distinguish between the different voices. If needed, use additional quotation marks within quotation marks to indicate a quotation within a quotation. (The interior quotation marks should be single, as shown below.)

In the example below, historian Norman Davies comments on the political mood in England and Germany in 1914, at the outbreak of the First World War. In his last sentence he quotes from another source. (Note that he uses square brackets to show that he has altered the text of his source.)

Original source:
Colonel House, the American, who visited Berlin in 1914, was shocked by the bombastic displays. Yet all the Powers cultivated a degree of military pomp and swagger; the differences were at best those of style. In all countries in 1914, unlike 1939, the military ethos was closely bound by a code of honour. A German observer remarked bitterly, “Militarism in the United Kingdom is regarded [by the British] as of God, and militarism in Germany as of the devil.”

Source: Norman Davies, Europe: A History (Oxford, 1996), p. 887.

Incorrect quotation:
Historian Norman Davies pointed out that all the future participants in the war were militaristic in their own way: all the European powers “cultivated a degree of military pomp and swagger… Militarism in the United Kingdom [was] regarded [by the British] as of God, and militarism in Germany as of the devil.”1

This student correctly uses elision marks (…) and square brackets ([ ]) to indicate omissions and changes to Davies’s text. But the student misquotes and misrepresents Davies. The second part of the quotation (“Militarism…”) is not Davies’s own words, but those of a “German observer.” This needs to be acknowledged, both to give credit to the original author (even if he is not named here) and to make clear that the bitter anti-British commentary is not Davies’s own but that of a contemporary observer.

Correct quotation:
Historian Norman Davies pointed out that all the future participants in the war were militaristic in their own way: all the European powers “cultivated a degree of military pomp and swagger.” Davies suggests that the British were quick to criticize German militarism while overlooking their own; he cites an ironic comment by an unnamed “German observer” who “remarked bitterly, ‘Militarism in the United Kingdom is regarded [by the British] as of God, and militarism in Germany as of the devil.’”1

4. Quotations must be contextualized.

It is your responsibility to provide enough context to make every quotation understandable. If the quotation refers to people, events, or ideas that you have not already introduced in the paper, make sure you introduce them so your reader can make sense of everything in the quotation. Either provide the necessary context, or eliminate the parts of the quotation that are distracting and not relevant to your argument. But make sure that you indicate any alterations to the quotation, as shown above.

5. Quotations must represent the author fairly.

The quotation below is technically accurate (it quotes the author's exact words and uses quotation marks), but seriously represents the original claim by taking a phrase out of context:

Original source:
I have enjoyed each of his books less than the last one. The early ones were truly inspired, but the newer ones seem stale and formulaic.

Incorrect quotation:
Jane Doe states that she has "enjoyed each of his books."

Make sure you quote in a way that fairly conveys the author’s original meaning. This requires careful attention to the context of author’s words. Are you quoting a statement that represents the author’s own beliefs? If not, be sure to explain the difference.