When you sit down to read an essay, you expect to hear about the author’s point of view and the author’s ideas. But that doesn’t mean that an essay should include only the author’s own words. Too much unbroken text can make an essay boring. To alleviate that problem, the judicial use of quotations can provide points of interest, offer additional perspectives, and break up long blocks of discussion to help refocus the reader’s attention on the essay and its ideas. However, for quotes to work well, they need to be integrated appropriately. Let’s take a look at some tips for how to use quotes the right way to enhance any academic essay.
- Use Quotes Sparingly. Before we get started exploring how to integrate quotes into your essay, it’s important to remember that quotes should be used sparingly. When an essay has too many quotes, it can look like the author doesn’t know what he or she is talking about. On the other hand, an essay that has too few quotations can seem wordy or like the author doesn’t want to give the spotlight to anyone else. As a general rule of thumb, quotation should make up no more than 10-15% of an essay’s text. This is enough to allow you to use them for color and support throughout the text without overwhelming your own original writing.
- Keep Quotes Short. Quotations should be used to support, enhance, and expand upon your own ideas, and it’s usually a good idea to keep quotations as short as practicable. While there will be rare instances where lengthy quotes are essential for an argument to make sense, generally, you should keep quotes to fewer than 40 words. You should try to use the minimum amount of quoted material to give the essence of the idea and no more.
- Use Quotes within Paragraphs, Not as Paragraphs. The key to successfully using quotations is integration. That means that quotations should be part of the discussion, not a separate block of text. Generally, except for very long quotations, you should place them within a paragraph so that they are integrated into the analysis of that paragraph as support for the main idea. Generally speaking, you want to use quotations to expand upon the topic sentence of the paragraph or to provide additional evidence or viewpoints to enhance your discussion.
- Introduce a Quotation before Presenting It. A quotation shouldn’t be presented in isolation or without any introduction. Remember that your readers won’t have read the same sources that you have, so they won’t know what a quote is saying or who said it unless you tell them. That’s why it’s important to start by introducing a quotation with a sentence that sets it up and explains who is speaking and the context of the quote. This helps the audience understand why they are about to read this quotation.
- End the Quotation with a Connection. Don’t leave a quote hanging at the end. While you might see the obvious connection between the quotation and the next paragraph of your essay, don’t assume the at your reader does. At the end of a quotation, close the thought by restating, briefly, the main idea and explaining how it connects to your perspective, point of view, or argument. Doing so will ensure that the reader pays attention to the quote and doesn’t just skip over it on the way to the next topic sentence.
- Choose Interesting Quotes. Finally, be sure that you are choosing interesting quotations. This might seem obvious, but if the quotation isn’t interesting, there’s no point in using it. A quotation, for example, that is nothing but a series of facts and numbers isn’t interesting, and that same information can easily be paraphrased and presented in your own words. By contrast, an effective quotation should offer something that can’t be said better and provides stylistic contrast with your own writing to keep the audience interested and engaged.
If you follow these essay-writing tips, you should be in a great position to integrate quotations effectively into your academic essay. The bottom line is a simple one: Keep the audience in mind. Imagine you are a reader of your own essay. Would you understand the quotation and why it’s being used? Would you feel that it enhanced the essay? If the answer is yes, then you’ve selected some good quotations and are crafting an original essay that will be both interesting and informative to your readers.
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