Integrating Quotes: Citing Sources Effectively in Academic Papers

If your college instructor wants you to cite every fact or opinion you find in an outside source, how do you make room for your own opinion?

  • Paraphrase. You can introduce studies that agree with you (Smith 123; Jones and Chin 123) and those that disagree with you (Mohan and Corbett 200) without interrupting your own argument. (Note how efficiently I did that — the parenthetical citations are designed to preserve the flow of ideas in the sentences that refer to outside ideas.)
  • Quote Selectively. If you must use the original author’s language, work a few words from the outside source into a sentence you wrote yourself. (If you can’t supply at least as many words of your own analysis of and rebuttal to the quoted passage, then you are probably padding.)
  • Avoid Summary. If you must quote several lines of another author’s language, don’t interrupt the flow of your own argument in order to summarize the material you have just quoted. (Generally speaking, summarizing someone else’s ideas is one of the easiest ways to churn out words; while students often turn to summary when they want to boost their word count, paragraphs that merely summarize are not as intellectually engaging, and therefore not worth as many points, as paragraphs that analyze, synthesize, and evaluate. See “Writing that Demonstrates Thinking Ability.”)

Integrating Quotations in MLA StyleIf you’ve already found good academic sources (including peer-reviewed journals) for your college research paper, you’ve got a good thesis and you’ve begun drafting your college research paper, this document will help you make your paper sound like a coherent argument, rather than a bunch of paragraphs strung together from other sources.

Notelaboriously rewriting source material so that it doesn’t use any of the original words is pointless effort; even if you completely rewrite the original, you still need to cite the original author (except, of course, when the information is common knowledge).

Avoid long quotes. If your 10-page paper offers 6 or 8 long chunks taken from other sources, stitched together with sentences like, “This quote shows the idea that…”, then you are not demonstrating the ability to write at the college level. Borrow shorter passages, even single words; integrate those passages into your own original argument.

Use quotes to launch discussion, not silence it. There’s nothing actually wrong with ending a paragraph, section, or paper with a quotation. But if you have a habit of asking a bunch of random questions, poking around the issue, and then “proving” your point by finishing up with a quotation, as if there is nothing more to say about the topic now that you’ve presented your quote, then you’re not demonstrating the ability to engage critically with a complex problem that might have numerous plausible solutions. You may instead be trying to discourage your reader from questioning your claims.

Include quotes from sources that disagree with your thesis. Rather than silencing an alternate or opposing claim, aim to show your reader how a careful consideration of all the evidence — both for and against — leads a reasonable skeptic to agree with your perspective.

Avoid encapsulated, serial summaries of your outside sources. Your high school teachers may have rewarded you for writing good summaries. But a college paper requires you to think on a much more advanced level than a string of paragraphs, each of which summarizes a separate outside source.

Avoid a rigid, simplistic organizational structure focused only on summarizing or reflecting on the sources you have found.

  1. Introduction to topic X.
  2. Summary and ideas about Source A.
  3. Summary and ideas about Source B.
  4. Summary and ideas about Source C.
  5. Conclusion: “Therefore, this paper has shown presented ideas A, B, and C all relate to topic X.”
This structure won’t permit you to make original connections between your sources and your main idea. You will end up writing too much summary and not enough original argument. The organization of your paper should flow from the argument that you plan to make.Consider instead the following, more intellectually complex use of sources:
  • Introduction
  • Point 1 (Sources A and B agree, but source C disagrees.)
  • Point 2 (Sources A and C agree, but source B doesn’t mention it directly.)
  • Point 2, continued. (Based on things that source B says about related issues, suggest that source B would likely disagree with sources A and C.)
  • Point 3 (Sources B and C both disagree with A, but for different reasons.)
  • Conclusion
Note that the revised outline deals with each source in more than one paragraph, and due to the complexity of Point 2, the author devotes two paragraphs to it. This student might need to do additional research.Perhaps source D only appears to support claims made in one section, and perhaps source E only exists to support a minor claim made about source B. If a source is not that important to your argument, but it helps you make one small point, then refer to the source where you need to and forget about it. If you ask yourself questions about how your sources relate to one another, then you can avoid summary and still have plenty to write about.
  • What if source A is the only evidence in favor of point 3, while B and C oppose it. Source D doesn’t mention this point at all.
    • Is that a weakness in D’s argument?
    • A sign that D isn’t a reliable source?
    • Or is that point simply outside the scope of the argument D was trying to make?
  • Did some authors have access to information that the author of D did now know about?
    • Maybe source D was published early, and new information has come to light since then. Is source D now irrelevant, or did the author raise good questions that are worth re-considering now that there is additional evidence?
    • Maybe source D was only looking at a problem in America, while the other sources also included Canada and Europe. Should you respond by narrowing or broadening your focus?
These are subtleties that you cannot really investigate when you introduce outside sources only in self-contained paragraphs that reference no other sources.
Serial Organization (weak integration)
In the above example, we see a series of stand-alone paragraphs. Sticking to one source per paragraph often leads to summary; at the very least, you are missing the opportunity to make connections between sources. A stronger introduction would explain the relationship between all the major points you are going to make in your paper.

Revision: Some Attempt to Organize

In the revision below, we see an updated introduction, with colored text indicating that the author has introduced the main point found in each of the body paragraphs. A strong intro would synthesize this multiple points into a coherent argument, rather than just a list list of “things to talk about.”

MLA Parenthetical Citations

The MLA-style in-text citation involves just the author’s last name, a space (not a comma), and then the page number (or line number, for verse).

Yes One engineer who figures prominently in all accounts of the 1986 Challenger accident says NASA was “absolutely relentless and Machiavellian” about following procedures to the letter (Vaughan 221).

See the following pages for how to format a college paper in MLA style and how to write an MLA style Works Cited list. Any college writing handbook will have multiple examples, but the main point is that you should leave the details out of the body of your paper — save them for the Works Cited list.

Integrate Quotations from Outside Sources

Don’t interrupt the flow of your own argument to give the author’s full name or the source’s full title.  Spend fewer words introducing your sources, and devote more words to expressing and developing your own ideas in ways that use shorter quotations, or even just a few words, from your outside sources.

Avoid clunky, high-schoolish documentation like the following:

No In the book Gramophone, Film, Typewriter, by Fredrich A. Kittler, it talks about writing and gender, and says on page 186, “an omnipresent metaphor equated women with the white sheet of nature or virginity onto which a very male stylus could inscribe the glory of its authorship.” As you can see from this quote, all this would change when women started working as professional typists.
The passages “it talks about” and “As you can see from this quote” are very weak attempts to engage with the ideas presented by Kittler. In addition, “In the book… it talks” is ungrammatical (“the book” and “it” are redundant subjects) and nonsensical (books don’t talk).
Maybe In the mid 1880s, “an omnipresent metaphor equated women with the white sheet of nature or virginity onto which a very male stylus could inscribe the glory of its authorship” (Kittler 186), but all this would change when women started working as professional typists.
This revision is marginally better, but only because it uses fewer words — it’s still not integrating the outside quote into the author’s own argument.

Don’t expend words writing about quotes and sources. If you use words like “in the book My Big Boring Academic Study, by Professor H. Pompous Windbag III, it says it says” or “the following quote by a government study shows that…” you are wasting words that would be better spent developing your ideas.

Using about the same space as the original, see how MLA style helps an author devote more words to developing the idea more fully. We shall continue to revise the above example:

Yes Before the invention of the typewriter, “an omnipresent metaphor” among professional writers concerned “a very male stylus” writing upon the passive, feminized “white sheet of nature or virginity” (Kittler 186). By contrast, the word “typewriter” referred to the machine as well as the female typist who used it (183).
This revision is perhaps a bit hard to follow, when taken out of context. But if you put a bit of introduction into the space you saved by cutting back on wasted words, the thought is clearer.
Yes To Kittler, the concept of the pen as a masculine symbol imposing form and order upon feminized, virginal paper was “an omnipresent metaphor” (186) in the days before the typewriter. But businesses were soon clamoring for the services of typists, who were mostly female. In fact, “typewriter” meant both the machine and the woman who used it (183).
The above revision mentions Kittler’s name in the body, and cites two different places in Kittler’s text (identified by page number alone).  This is a perfectly acceptable variation of the standard author-page parenthetical citation.

While MLA Style generally expects authors to save details for the Works Cited pages, there’s nothing wrong with introducing the work more fully — if you have a good reason to do so. (See “Quotations: Integrating them in MLA Style.”)

Related Links
Dennis G. Jerz
Finding Good Sources
A reference librarian is specially trained to help patrons find the best sources. An Internet search engine, on the other hand, will show you plenty of sources that will waste your time.Dennis G. Jerz
Integrating Quotations in MLA Style
The MLA-style in-text citation is a highly compressed format, designed to avoid interrupting the flow of ideas. A proper MLA inline citation uses just the author’s last name and the page number (or line number), separated by a space (nota comma).Dennis G. Jerz
Academic Journals: Using Them Properly
“Crazy Joe’s Shakespeare Website” probably won’t have the authoritative information your English professor is looking for. If you want up-to-date, accurate articles, look in an academic journal.David Nies and Dennis G. Jerz
Using MS-Word to Format a Paper in MLA Style
This step-by-step set of directions will help you use MS-Word to format an English paper properly.Dennis G. Jerz
MLA Style Bibliography Builder
Updated to handle web sources (Jan 2001).  Choose a form, fill it out, and push the button… you will get an individual MLA “Works Cited” entry, which you may then copy and paste into your word processor.

01 Nov 200 — Dennis G. Jerz
01 Dec 2002 — major revisions
03 Oct 2007 — redistributed some content to a new handout on integrating quotations
04 Nov 2011 — reorganization and updates

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12 thoughts on “Integrating Quotes: Citing Sources Effectively in Academic Papers

  1. Pingback: Integrating Quotations in Research Papers: Citing Sources Effectively — Jerz's Literacy Weblog

  2. Hi.

    I love your website!
    I’m in a college English Comp class and am working on a thesis paper.

    (MLA format)

    I’m quoting an author named John Banzhaf and have a question about how to cite the quote.

    My author’s essay is actually a transcript of his Congressional testimony.
    He uses footnotes to provide references to validate his statements.

    In one of his footnotes, he quotes an excerpt from an article in the New York Times.

    I’ve quoted that same NYT excerpt.

    How would I format the quote citation?

    Do I cite the quote as coming from the author’s body of work, and not worry about it’s original source?

    I’m thinking it should be:
    (I’ve included my own lead-in, for your to see what I’m trying to quote)

    …it is one of these footnotes that refers us to a study done by the National Bureau of Economic Statistics and subsequently reported in the New York Times that the “growth of fast-food accounted for 68 percent of the rise in American obesity”. (Banzhaf 166)

    I asked my professor, and she wasn’t sure.
    MLA’s website doesn’t provide specific formatting help (buy the book :)
    and Purdue doesn’t mention a quote within a quote…

    Thank you for any help!!!
    You are an ENORMOUS help to us literary n00bs :)

    ~Kathy

    • You’re playing the telephone game — I am reading what you say Banzhaf said the New York Times said something called the “National Bureau of Economic Statistics” said.

      I just did a Google search, and I found a US Bureau of Economic Analysis and National Bureau of Economic Research. I don’t know anything about economics, so I don’t know whether perhaps the same organization had a recent name change, but it looks to me like Google references to NBES are actually talking about the NBER instead. At any rate, that’s enough of a warning sign that I’d say the problem is not how to cite Banzhaf, but rather how to trace the 68% statistic directly to its source. (I’d start by looking for the NYT article that Banzhaf mentions.)

  3. Dude!

    You are bang on correct!

    I’m looking at the author’s footnote, and it says “…STATISTICS”.

    So I Google the article in the NYT by it’s title: “Belt-Loosening in the Work Force” (NYT 2 Mar 2003)

    and the article’s author writes:

    ______________________________________

    The economists — Shin-Yi Chou, Henry Saffer and Michael Grossman — presented their findings in a working paper called ”An Economic Analysis of Obesity” for the National Bureau of Economic Research. In the paper, the economists note that…
    ______________________________________

    So I Google An Economic Analysis of Obesity and find it’s REALLY:

    An Economic Analysis of Adult Obesity: Results from the Behavioral
    Risk Factor Surveillance System
    Shin-Yi Chou, Michael Grossman and Henry Saffer
    NBER Working Paper No. 9247
    October 2002
    JEL No. I12, I18

    The mis-cited, mis-cited :) statement is on page 28:

    “Without trend terms, the increase in the per capita number of restaurants makes the
    largest contribution to trends in weight outcomes, accounting for 69 percent of the growth in
    BMI and 68 percent of the rise in the percentage obese.” (Chou 28)

    So, first, kudos to you!!! – for even taking the time to fact-check the quote…
    If it wasn’t for you, I’d have been wrong, and wronger :)

    Second, now that I have the correct citation information, do I

    a) cite Banzhaf only, and
    b) with a [sic]?

    The reason I ask is… I learned from you, elsewhere on your site, that I should not quote from an “outside source”…
    If I quote Chou’s paper, I’m thinking that is considered an “outside source”?

    Wow.
    You blow my doors off with your attention to detail.
    Excellent, sir.
    Pure excellence.

    ~Kathy

    • Your own detective work was pretty good, too! Most professional researchers will put this level of scrutiny into every source they plan to use in their papers, which is why it’s worth the effort for students to find and use peer-reviewed academic sources, rather than random web pages.

      If you want to use that statistic, I wouldn’t cite Banzhaf at all — which looked like a random website, not a scholarly publication. Just cite the MBER paper directly.

      • Hey!

        I just wanted to catch up and say thanks for your help.

        I was (and still am) under a ton of deadlines, so I wasn’t able to stop back here right away…

        FYI: The Banzhaf essay in question is in a textbook called:
        “They Say/I Say”: The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing : With Readings. By Gerald Graff, Cathy Birkenstein, and Russel K. Durst. 1st ed. New York: W.W. Norton &, 2009. ISBN-13: 978-0393931747

        The final was due within hours of my last post, so I had to make a corporate decision as to what(whom) I should cite…I picked Banzhaf.
        Citing him was easier than going with the MBER paper :)

        I received a solid “B”.
        I kinda thought I was getting an A (hah! giggle…)
        When I read my professor’s critiques of my paper, however, she was deadly accurate as to what I needed to improve upon. It certainly was not an A paper, after all.
        So, I’ve got new goals for paper #2 :)

        She made this very neat-o checklist of what constitutes A level work, B level work, C level work, etc…
        I’ll ask her permission to scan in and send to you…might be something cool to pass along.

        An interesting anecdote:
        Discovering the mis-cited, mis-cited information in the Banzhaf essay/NYT article led me to my thesis topic for paper #2.

        (I’m still trying to work out how I’m going to explain somewhere in that paper that ya’ got ta’ put da’ lime in de’ coconut… but it’ll come to me…)

        Keep up the awesome work on helping all of us of out here in “the intertoobs” land… we, the unwashed masses of inept paper writers :)
        You rock!

        ~Kathy

    • Leslie, it’s great that your instructor is giving you the chance to revise. He or she is doing twice or three times the work it would take just to give you a single grade, and you will learn a lot if you take full advantage of the opportunity.

  4. Pingback: Links for exercises on using sources |

  5. Pingback: Wednesday, November 6th–Senior Comp « Stearns

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