Writing about Literature

Quotation, Citation, and Documentation

Effective Quotation

Useful Strategies

  1. Make the connection between quotations and inferences as seamless as possible. Try to put them next to each other (in one sentence, if possible). Avoid drawing attention to your evidence as evidence. Don’t waste time with phrases such as This statement is proof that ...; This phrase is significant because ...; This idea is illustrated by...; There is good evidence for this ...; and the like. Show why facts are meaningful or interesting rather than simply saying that they are.

Wordsworth calls nature a "homely Nurse" and says she has "something of a Mother’s mind" (lines 81, 79). This diction supports the idea that he sees nature as a beneficent, maternal force. He is saying that nature is an educator and a healer.

Wordsworth describes nature as a beneficent, maternal force. A "homely Nurse" with "something of a Mother’s Mind," nature both heals and educates (lines 81, 79).

Tennyson advocates decisive action, even as he highlights the forces that often prohibited his contemporaries from taking it. This is suggested by the lines "Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will, / To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield" (lines 69–70).

Tennyson advocates forceful action, encouraging his contemporaries "To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield" (line 70). Yet he recognizes that his generation is more tempted to "yield" than earlier ones because they have been "Made weak by time and fate" (line 69).

  1. Introduce or follow a quotation from a source (as well as a paraphrase or summary) with a signal phrase that includes the source author’s name; you might also include the author’s title and/or a bit of information about his or her status, if that information helps to establish credibility.

In his study of the Frankenstein myth, Chris Baldick claims that "[m]ost myths, in literate societies at least, prolong their lives not by being retold at great length, but by being alluded to" (3)—a claim that definitely applies to the Hamlet myth.

Oyin Ogunba, himself a scholar of Yoruban descent, suggests that many of Soyinka’s plays attempt to capture the mood and rhythm of traditional Yoruban festivals (8).

As historian R. K. Webb observes, "Britain is a country in miniature" (1).

  1. To avoid boring your readers, vary the content and placement of these phrases while always choosing the most accurate verb. (Says, for example, implies that words are spoken, not written.) You may find it useful to consult the following list of verbs that describe what sources do.
Verbs to Use in Signal Phrases


















focuses on









draws atten-
    tion to


points out











  1. Lead your readers into fairly long quotations by giving them:
  • a clear sense of what to look for in the quotation;

  • any information they need to understand the quotation and to appreciate its significance. Quite often, contextual information—for instance, about who’s speaking to whom and in what situation—is crucial to a quotation’s meaning; this is especially true when quoting dialogue. Also pay attention to pronouns: if the quotation contains a pronoun without an obvious referent, either indicate the specific referent in advance or add the appropriate noun into the quotation. (Again, place added words in brackets.)

A Raisin in the Sun seems to endorse traditional gender roles: "I’m telling you to be the head of this family... like you supposed to be" (1980); "the colored woman" should be "building their men up and making ’em feel like they somebody" (1949).

A Raisin in the Sun seems to endorse traditional gender roles. When Mama tells Walter "to be the head of this family from now on like you supposed to be" (1980), she affirms that Walter, rather than she or Ruth or Beneatha, is the rightful leader of the family. Implicitly she’s also doing what Walter elsewhere says "the colored woman" should do— "building their men up and making ’em feel like they somebody" (1949).

Julian expresses disgust for the class distinctions so precious to his mother: "Rolling his eyes upward, he put his tie back on. ‘Restored to my class,’ he muttered" (490).

Julian professes disgust for the class distinctions so precious to his mother. At her request, he puts back on his tie, but he can’t do so without "[r]olling his eyes" and making fun of the idea that he is thereby "[r]estored to [his] class" (490).

NOTE: Here, the more effective examples offer crucial information about who is speaking ("When Lena tells Walter") or what is happening ("At her request, he puts back on his tie"). They also include statements about the implications of the quoted words ("she affirms that Walter...is the rightful leader of the family"). At the same time, background facts are subordinated to the truly important, evidentiary ones.

  1. Follow each block quotation with a sentence or more of analysis. It often helps to incorporate into that analysis certain key words and phrases from the quotation.

The second stanza of the poem refers back to the title poem of The Colossus, where the speaker’s father, representative of the gigantic male other, so dominated her world that her horizon was bounded by his scattered pieces. In "Daddy," she describes him as

     Marble-heavy, a bag full of God,
     Ghastly statue with one grey toe
     Big as a Frisco seal

     And a head in the freakish Atlantic
     Where it pours bean green over blue
     In the waters off beautiful Nanset.

. . . Here the image of her father, grown larger than the earlier Colossus of Rhodes, stretches across and subsumes the whole of the United States, from the Pacific to the Atlantic ocean.
—Pamela J. Annas, "A Disturbance of Mirrors" (ch. 25)

  1. Be aware that even though long (especially block) quotations can be effective, they should be used sparingly. Long quotations can create information overload or confusion for readers, making it hard for them to see what is most significant. When you quote only individual words or short phrases, weaving them into your sentences, readers stay focused on what’s significant, and it’s easier to show them why it’s significant, to get inferences and facts right next to each other.

  2. Vary the length of quotations and the way you present them, using a variety of strategies. Choose the strategy that best suits your purpose at a specific moment in your essay, while fairly and fully representing the text. It can be very tempting to fall into a pattern—always, for example, choosing quotations that are at least a sentence long and introducing each with an independent clause and a colon. But overusing any one technique can easily render your essay monotonous. It might even prompt readers to focus more on the (inelegant) way you present evidence than on its appropriateness and significance.

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