Friday, July 11, 2014

How to Use Quotations as Source Content in Essays or Speeches

A man take an oath on a bible and swears to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth about his source content.
Quotations can add a lot of credibility to your argument.
However, you should use them carefully and sparingly.

When using the words of others, an ethical consideration writers must make is to credit those others.  Failing to give credit to original authors, or severely overusing content written by others, is a serious violation of academic honesty.  That violation is called plagiarism.

Here are three key ideas to keep in mind when you feel you must quote, or use the exact words of others, to support your own ideas.

1. What's the first rule of using quotations in your papers?  Quote only when necessary.

There are times when only the exact words of a source author will do the information justice.  For example, when quoting something clever, figurative, or full of expression that adds to its meaning, only the exact words of the writer will suffice.  On the other hand, there are a lot of times when information could more easily be paraphrased or summarized to fit more neatly into your own writing.  Of course, you must still give credit, whether the information is quoted, summarized, or paraphrased.

Fair warning: Never quote material out of context or with an incomplete understanding of the material.  This always leads to weak writing, or worse, inaccurate or even unethical writing.

2. Weave quotations seamlessly into your own sentences.

Even when using the exact words of another writer, you must weave those words into your own writing.  What I mean is, you should introduce the quotation, give the quotation, and show its relevance to your own ideas all within one or two connected sentences.

Take a look at the difference between the following two examples.  The first is choppy and seems incomplete.  The second weaves the quotation seamlessly into the author's own sentences, the first of which is a topic sentence that is then supported by and added to by the quotation from an identified expert.  There is also a transitional device, "According to," that makes it clear to the reader the idea is shifting from the writer's own writing to the ideas of a source author.

  • Original

“It’s overuse in the last part of the century (especially by Euripides, who often employed gods to resolve his plots) led to the term deus ex machina, god from the machine, to describe any contrived ending” (Brockett & Hildy, 2008, pg. 27). 

  • Revised

However, as time went on the physical mekane came to be relied upon not only as part of plays’ spectacle and staging, but as a plot device. According to Brocket and Hildy, writers of History of the Theatre, “It’s overuse in the last part of the century (especially by Euripides, who often employed gods to resolve his plots) led to the term deus ex machina, god from the machine, to describe any contrived ending” (2008, pg. 27). 

3. Give full credit to the original author.

Most importantly, always give full credit for quoted source content to the source author.  

  • Always write down all pertinent information about a source when you find it, so that no matter which style guide you are asked to use, you will have the information necessary to cite your sources, both in the text of the paper and on a bibliography page.  
  • Always use quotation marks to designate quoted material.  Make sure quoted material is transparent and easy to distinguish from your own ideas.
  • Always revise if there is ever any ambiguity about whether information in a paper is source content or the writer's own words.

In other words, use source content you're proud to use, and briefly brag about your sources in the text of the paper (i.e., "writers of History of the Theatre").  Make the reader understand that your source content is both relevant and authoritative.

To summarize, using source content requires an ethical consideration, which is to avoid stealing source content and claiming it as your own.  In order to avoid that plagiarism pitfall, always give credit to the original author, weave quotations into your own writing, and only use quotations when necessary.

Need to know more?  Try

Giving Speeches: The Ethical Use of Source Content
Avoid Unintentional Plagiarism
Evidence: Writing Well-Supported Paragraphs
Research and Writing Basics: Evaluating Source Content

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