How To Quote A Source

Be sure to accurately cite any sources in your written work to give credit where due and to avoid plagiarism charges.

When we write for other people, it's often tempting to quote the words of an expert or a famous person to add zest to our style. Or, in another scenario, a journalist covering a story for the local newspaper will likely attempt to quote people involved in newsworthy incidents. In either case, quoted comments from others that are included in a person's writing need to be shown as a quotation. That way, the original speaker gets credit for his or her thoughts and the writer does not get charged with plagiarism by inadvertently or deliberately taking credit for someone else's ideas.

If you're not sure how to quote another person's words, here are a few tips:

1. When you plan to use another person's phrasing in your speech or writing, be sure to give that person credit. In other words, explain in your writing who said the words that you plan to include, and use quotation marks to show the precise phrasing. Here's an example:

George Washington reportedly said, "I cannot tell a lie."

Because Mr. Washington's exact words are included, double quotation marks are needed as an indicator of that. Here's how the quote looks without the quotation marks:

George Washington reportedly said I cannot tell a lie.

This example's punctuation makes it look like Mr. Washington said YOU cannot lie, rather than himself.

2. State the person's words exactly. Don't misspell or misuse any of the words that are included in your quote. Write the quoted material exactly as it was stated. Choose a quote that is neither too long nor too short. Make it fit the context of your remarks and style. A quote should complement or supplement your ideas rather than the other way around.

3. If the quoted material contains an error, show it with "sic." This expression is a Latin phrase to suggest that you are quoting the text "as is," and understand there is a mistake or inconsistency. Here's an example:

"Then the boy sate [sic] down in the mud to play."

The phrase "sic" should appear in brackets, not parentheses. Never correct an error in quoted material, but do acknowledge it.

4. Place the quote in an appropriate are of your writing. You may wish to begin the paper with a quote, or end with one. Perhaps a quote can be used at the beginning or conclusion of a paragraph. Introduce the quoted material by referring to its author by his or her full name or last name, not the first:

James Cameron believes that the U.S. economy is headed for an upswing...

Use quotes as accents, but rely on your own ideas to anchor the document.

5. Provide a complete citation, or reference, for the quoted material at the end of your document. Use an appropriate style guide, such as the Modern Language Association (MLA), the American Psychological Association (APA), or the Chicago Manual of Style (CMS). Typical information to be included is the author's alphabetized name with the surname first, followed by the title of the piece from which you've quoted, and the publishing information.

Inserting another person's words may help to add credence to your own. Or they may simply provide an alternative idea to add complexity to your style. Whatever the reason for using quotations, quote them accurately.

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