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Using Sources


It isn't always easy (or desirable) to summarize or paraphrase an author's ideas, and sometimes, the author really does say it best! You may decide that using a quote is better than your own words if you want to discuss the actual language the author used or if the essence of the author's idea will be lost if you use your own words. If you decide that you do want to use quote, here are some pointers.

When to use a COMMA:

If you are introducing a quote using an explanatory phrase but not a complete sentence, you should use a comma. The phrase will likely end with a verb such as “says,” “thinks,” “believes,” “explains,” “recalls,” or “questions.”  The explanatory phrase might begin or end with the tag “according to.”

The importance of making each day count is best expressed by Dr. Seuss who says, "Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting. So get on your way" (Seuss, 1990).

In this example, the quote is required to complete the sentence.  This is why a comma is used before the quote.

When to use a COLON:

If you use a complete sentence to introduce a quotation, place a colon (not a comma) after the sentence and before the quote.

If you are struggling with an assignment or you would like to improve your speaking, reading, or writing skills, the English Tutors are here to help you work smarter, learn faster, and do better: "And will you succeed? Yes indeed, yes indeed! Ninety-eight and three-quarters percent guaranteed" (Seuss, 1990)!

In this example, that which comes before the colon is a complete idea that can stand alone as a complete sentence.

When a Colon or Comma is NOT needed:

Incorporating quoted material into a sentence is often difficult, but it is a great way of integrating secondary sources when you are writing an essay.  This method creates flow and avoids awkward pauses and marked divisions between your writing and the quoted material.

Unlike the previous methods, there is no punctuation between your own words and the quotation.

In the wise words of Dr. Seuss, clear and concise writing is the most effective means of communication because “the writer who breeds more words than he needs, is making a chore for the reader who reads" (Seuss, 1996).

The introduction to the quote is structured so that the quote is required to complete the sentence.  However, no punctuation is needed before the quote.

NOTE: It would be grammatically incorrect to place a comma after the word “because.”

Using SHORT Quotations:

It is not always necessary to use an entire quote or passage.  Selecting a few important words is sometimes just as effective and results in more clear and concise communication.

Reading a variety of texts is a good way of expanding your knowledge, and "the more that you know, the more places you'll go” (Seuss, 1990).


Using LONG Quotations:

If you have decided that using a long quotation (anything over 40 words) is necessary, remember to indent the entire passage, maintain double-spacing and omit the quotation marks. Also keep in mind that you must consider the punctuation that you use to introduce the long quotation usually a colon is used in this case.

...writing means different things to different people, and Dr. Seuss’s approach is reflective of his free and independent style:

Writing simply means no dependent clauses, no dangling things, no flashbacks, and keeping the subject near the predicate. We throw in as many fresh words as we can get away with. Simple, short sentences don't always work. You have to do tricks with pacing and alternate long sentences with short. (Seuss, 1996)

Seuss describes a creative process that is…

Altering Quotations:

You may need to alter a quote in some way so that it can be effectively integrated into your essay. While minor alterations are permitted, you should try to keep them to a minimum.

When using the method that involves blending quoted material with your own words, you may need to change a verb tense or omit a few words so that the blended sentence makes sense grammatically.

  • To show that you have omitted words, place three spaced periods – this is called an ellipsis (...) – in the position of the words that were removed.  If the omission comes at the end of your sentence, use a fourth dot as the period to show that the sentence has ended.
  • To show that you added or altered a word, place the word in square brackets – [ ]. Modifying short quotations to make them fit smoothly into your own sentences requires the use of square brackets to indicate any alterations made to the original source.