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  3. Writing in your own words
  4. Using quotations

Using quotations

If you find that an author has summed up in a particularly cogent way, you may prefer to quote their words directly. When you quote a person, put their words in quotation marks (' ').

Halliday (1978, p.1) claims that 'A child creates, first his child tongue, then his mother tongue, in interaction with that little coterie of people who constitute his meaning group'.

Presenting quotations well

Quotations should be brief. You should do most of the work of explaining an idea in your own words and use a quotation simply to back up what you've said. If you are studying literature, then you may need to quote words or phrases from the poem or passage you are analysing or discussing. Whatever your reason for using quotations, there are various rules that you must follow.

  • You must quote exactly, including any punctuation marks.
  • Use single quotation marks ' ' to enclose the quoted words of a short quotation. Double quotation marks " " are used to mark off a quotation within a longer quoted passage, often a passage from a literary work.
  • If the quote is longer than about three lines it should be indented, that is, put in its own paragraph and set in further from the margin, and the quotation marks omitted.
  • Each quotation must have a reference, which should appear in brackets immediately afterwards, either naming the original source or using a number with a numbered reference at the end.
  • If you add a word of your own in the middle of a quotation for clarity, then put square brackets [ ] around it.
  • If you leave out a word or phrase, then indicate what you have done by putting an ellipsis … where the word or phrase was.
  • Introduce a quotation with a phrase followed either by a comma or a colon.
  • Different disciplines do have slightly different conventions, so check with your tutor. Once you have decided on which conventions to use, then be consistent.

A note on plagiarism: using quotations is not the same as plagiarism. Plagiarism is borrowing too heavily from someone else's work and failing to acknowledge the debt, giving the impression that you are passing their work off as your own.

Universities have sophisticated software that helps them detect when an assignment contains information that has been copied from somewhere else without acknowledgement. For this reason it is very important that you learn the referencing format your module adopts.

Tip for quotes

When you make notes during your module, make sure that you record the source of any good quotes you come across.