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Choosing Appropriate Quotes

So you’ve read an article (at least twice), annotated it with your thoughts and questions, and created a Double Entry Notebook or Quote-Question-Comment Worksheet to separate your own ideas from the author’s. You’ve got great ideas for your writing assignment, and you’ve started to figure out your main point using the  Thesis Generating Worksheet. Now what?

Pretty much every piece of writing you do for college, whether it’s an informal post or a formal essay, will be in response to something you’ve read—and that means you have to quote. Sometimes you’ll rely on outside sources to introduce an idea, define a technical term, or provide supporting evidence for your own argument. Sometimes you’ll use a quote to illustrate different positions on an issue, or as an example of an argument you’ll go on to disagree with in your paper. But no matter why you’re using a quote, remember: what you have to say is more important than what the quote has to say.

How to Pick Appropriate Quotes

1. Take out your completed Double Entry Notebook and Thesis Generating worksheets. These should include quotes that you found compelling as you read.

2. For each quote, ask yourself:

  • Does the quotation say something in an original or unusually vivid and powerful way that is hard to paraphrase?
  • Are the quoted words themselves at issue in your interpretation?
  • Does the quotation come from someone with first-hand experience with the issues you are researching?
  • Does the quotation come from an expert whose authority is particularly important to support your thesis (or argument) and enhance credibility of your writing?
  • Does the quotation feature an idea you want to argue for or against?

3. If the answer to any of these questions is yes, make a note of it next to the quote and hold onto it. If the answer to all of these questions is no, you don’t need the quote—set it aside.

4. If you are using multiple readings in your assignment (i.e. for a research paper or similar), you should start a notebook or computer file in which you list each source by name, record the appropriate bibliographic information (see our Common Writing Questions for information about citing references), and the quotes you have chosen.  This will give you a big head start on your bibliography or works cited list.

Following this process will give a you pool of quotes to use in your assignment.  Once you’ve chosen the quotes you want to include, you need to think about how to use those quotes in an essay.

NEXT: Integrating Quotes into Your Writing

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