Using Quotations



  1. Use quotations only if they use particularly vivid language or those words are the most effective means to demonstrate your point; do not use them if they are no more special than your words.
  2. Historians rarely use quotations from secondary sources (except when reviewing such works).
  3. Quotations from primary sources should serve as relevant evidence for your argument.



LENGTH:  Keep quotations as short as possible.

  • Use ellipses and brackets to control how much of a quotation you use.  (See page on ellipses and brackets.)
  • Long quotations—especially if used frequently—are distracting to readers.  They are also likely to include material that is not essential or even relevant to your paper.

TRANSITION:  Use an introduction to fit the quotation smoothly into your text and to explain why you are using it.  A quotation cannot stand by itself.

  • Use the NAME of the author (full name if not provided earlier in text) and some IDENTIFICATION of the author (sometimes even if provided earlier).
  • Identifying the SOURCE of a quotation in a footnote (while required) does not tell the reader its AUTHOR.
  • Use verbs that help explain the relationship between your ideas and those in the quotation.
  • Do not identify someone’s words as “a quotation.”  People make statements, not quotations.

METHODS OF TRANSITION/INTRODUCTION:  Use various methods of fitting in and introducing quotations.

The president argued that his opponents were “idiots.”

According to the teacher, “the student was grade crazy.”

“He was a hated man,” his wife argued.

His horror at what he saw was overwhelming:  “How could men do this to each other?”

The diplomatic note pointed out that “there was no difference . . .” in how the two countries were thinking.

“No matter what happens,” the general sighed, “the battle is lost.”

For introducing blocked (indented, single-spaced longer) quotations:

The following steps were detailed in the treaty:

The general explained his thoughts about the battle.

The new statute provided that


LOCATION: While it is not an absolute rule, try not to end paragraphs with quotations.  Most of the time readers need a post-quotation explanation to understand fully what they are supposed to get out of a quotation.


GRAMMAR/PUNCTUATION: Make sure that verb tense in quotations is compatible with your text.  Use ellipses and brackets to make necessary changes.



Try some of the following verbs in these sentences.  See how the verbs can both subtly and dramatically change the meaning of each sentence.

The king ______, “This is war.”

She _______, “I am innocent.”

acknowledged implored recognized
admitted insisted reiterated
announced insinuated remarked
argued interjected repeated
claimed lamented reported
commented lied ruled
conceded maintained screamed
concluded observed stated
confessed ordered supplicated
decided pointed out swore
declared proclaimed testified
decreed proposed thought
denied quibbled translated
dictated quipped urged
disclosed ranted uttered
exclaimed read vowed
held reasoned warned
hinted rebutted whined