Quotation Integration: Two Simple Mistakes to Avoid

By Kurt Stumpo

You’ve researched for weeks, identified your key sources, crafted a thesis that is supported by your sources, and compiled a perfectly formatted works cited page. Well done. Maybe. There’s only so much paraphrasing you can do, and if your use of quotations is ineffective, your paper will be ineffective as well (in spite of your hard-earned research!).

Sports metaphors lurk everywhere, so why not consider one here? It doesn’t matter how stacked your team is if you put six of your players in left field. Spacing and placement matter, and effective research will be undermined by ineffective deployment within your sentences/paragraphs (the same way that six players in an outfield will let a lot of balls through the infield).

There are two glaring errors common to quotations integration. Here is one especially unfortunate one:

Hans warned me against drinking that. “That chocolate milk went bad six months ago.” Therefore, because he told me that, I won’t drink it, lest I develop a GI-tract infection.

It doesn’t matter if your prose sparkles (the aforementioned certainly doesn’t): Never leave a quotation by itself. Lonely quotations that dump information in the middle of a paragraph will not help you create a cohesive argument.

At the least, introduce your source within the same sentence:

Hans seemed very confident when he told me that, “that chocolate milk went bad six months ago.” Therefore, I didn’t drink it, lest I develop a GI-tract infection.

My source is identified in the same sentence in which I deploy my quotation. Rather than having to backtrack to make sense of a quotation that suddenly appears in the middle of my paragraph, I can move forward with whatever argument I may want to make, and my whole paragraph is in position to fall into place now.

The other common mistake is comma abuse. Even if you know you don’t stick a solitary quotation in the middle of a paragraph, you may be guilty of this offense:

Hans’s Greek yogurt was several weeks old, the CDC warns against “consuming Greek yogurt that’s been sitting in the refrigerator for a long time,” so I didn’t eat it.

This is slightly better than leaving the quotation by itself, but the first comma is being spliced here. Just because these ideas are related doesn’t certify the comma usage.

Again, the fix is simple:

Hans’s Greek yogurt was several weeks old, and the CDC warns against “consuming Greek yogurt that’s been sitting in the refrigerator for a long time,” so I didn’t eat it.

Alternatively, we can re-tailor this sentence with a colon, a handy tool for quoting:

There was a great reason why I didn’t eat Hans’s Greek yogurt: the CDC warns “against consuming Greek yogurt that’s been sitting in the refrigerator for a long time.”

Colons can help introduce quotations efficiently, but whether you use a colon or not, make the link between what you’re saying and what your source is saying apparent.

Every quotation should either be accompanied by a reference to the original writer or in some way establishes its relevance to your argument. Keep these two ideas in mind, and you’ll be ready to deploy quotations in a manner that will be both grammatically correct and logically coherent.

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