Some Advice on Form1
Using quotations in a paper about literature may seem as simple as it is inevitable. In fact, however, using quotations well is a delicate and often difficult business, and using them poorly is one of the surest ways of seriously damaging a paper. Far more than technical correctness is at stake. Although clumsily handled quotations can indeed fill a paper with dozens of annoying mechanical errors, they can also harm a paper in larger, more substantial ways. If quotations are not selected carefully and explained adequately, they can weaken a paper's argument by distracting, confusing, or simply failing to persuade readers; if they are not introduced gracefully, they can make a paper almost unbearably awkward. The use of quotations is thus an important element of the art of writing papers about literature, requiring careful consideration of content and style as well as close attention to mechanics. It is an element that challenges both the beginning writer and the experienced one.
Use quotations when they will support or clarify an argument. Do not pad papers with unnecessary quotations: resist the temptation to use quotations simply to add to the beauty of a paper, to show the extent of your research, or to summarize something you do not intend to analyze. Also keep quotations short; often, quoting a sentence will do as well as quoting a paragraph, and quoting a phrase or a word will do as well as quoting an entire sentence. In the following passage, the quotation is much longer than it needs to be:
In Hawthorne's "The Gentle Boy," public intolerance makes individuals bigoted and cruel. Even the children are affected. In one scene, "the children of the neighborhood had assembled in thelittle forest-crowned amphitheatre behind the meeting house. But it happened that an unexpected addition was made to the heavenly little band. It was Ilbrahim, who came towards the children.... In an instant, he was the centre of a brood of baby fiends, who lifted sticks against him, pelted him with stones, and displayed an instinct of destruction, far more loathsome than the bloodthirstiness of manhood" (904). The children are imitating their parents when they persecute this Quaker child.
Unless the writer intends to analyze this scene closely, relating the entire incident can only slow down the paper and distract the reader. The writer should reexamine the quotation, looking for phrases that will quickly and vividly make clear the effects of public intolerance:
In Hawthorne's "The Gentle Boy," public intolerance makes individuals bigoted and cruel. Even the children are affected: In one scene, a group of children is transformed from a "heavenly little band" into "a brood of baby-fiends" when they see a chance to imitate their parents by persecuting a quaker child (904).
Here, paring down the quotation helps the reader to focus on the writer's central point.
Commenting on Quotations
Quotations should be accompanied by explanations that show how they are relevant to the point being made. If such explanations are lacking, the reader may be confused or skeptical:
Although the speaker in Marvell's "To His Coy Mistress" speaks of death, his mannerr and tone indicate that he is not frightened or desperate himself and is not trying to frighten the lady: "The grave's a fine and private place, / But none, I think, do there embrace." He reminds her of mortality to emphasize the folly of infinite delay, but he does not trier to terrify her into submission.
Although the relationship between the assertion and the quotation may seem self-evident to the writer of this paper, the reader may need some commentary in order to be convinced:
Although the speaker in llarvell's "To His Coy Mistress" speaks of death, his mamler and tone indicate that he is not frightened or desperate himself and is not trying to frighten the lady: "The grave's a fine and private place, / But none, I thinks do there embrace." The ironic understatement of the speaker's description of the grave and the silliness of his pretended uncertainly about embracing seem designed to amuse the lady, to temper unpleasant facts with wit. He reminds her of mortality to emphasize the folly of infinite delay, but he does not try to terrify her into submission.
Here a single sentence does a great deal to help the reader understand the writer's assertion about Marvell's manner and tone, making the relationship between assertion and quotation clear.
Similarly, quotations from critics must be explained and supported. Do not assume that readers will accept a critic's pronouncements without question; the mere fact that a critic has made a statement proves nothing. An argument has a weak foundation when it is built on critical judgments presented as facts:
As Dorothy Van Ghent points out, Fielding's conception of comedy calls not for "self-discovery" but for "a various ornament of 'self-exposures' on the part of many men" (86). In Austen's novels, however, self-discovery is far more important, and comic complications are resolved as the heroine comes to a gradual awareness of her own character and emotions.
Many readers will not accept the comparison with Austen unless they see the basis of Van Ghent's statement about Fielding:
As Dorothy Van Ghent points out, Fielding's conception of comed;y calls not for "self-discovery" but for "a various ornament of 'self-exposures' on the part of many men" (86). Tom is discovered in the bushes with Molly, and Square is found in Molly's closet; Black George is exposed as a thief, Thwackum as a hypocrite, and Blifll as a villain. In Austen's novels, however, self-discovery is far more important, and comic complications are resolved as the heroine comes to a gradual awareness of her own character and emotions.
After quoting a critic, briefly explain the basis of that critic's argument or provide new supporting evidence of your own. Quotations, from either primary or secondary sources, often provide support for arguments, but they do not take the place of arguments or relieve you of the responsibility of explaining and defending all the assertions you want the reader to accept.
Integrating Quotations into a Text
When introducing quotations into your text, avoid wordy and overly obtrusive formulas:
Just as Andrea fails to make a convincing defense of his art, he fails to win Lucrezia's love-or even her attention. Robert Langhaum explosion the reasons for his failure in a passage that reads as follows: "he is talking far too much about himself for successful love-making" (143).
Look for subtler, more concise ways of smoothly integrating quotations into your text:
Just as Andrea fails to make a convincing defense of his art, he fails to win Lucrezia's love-or even her attention. As Robert Langbaum says, Andrea "is Coking far too much about himself for successful love-making" (143).
Phrases such as "as Langbaum says," "according to Langbaum," and "Langbaum notes that" can help introduce quotations without unnecessary fanfare.
Interrupting one of your own sentences with a long quotation is often awkward and distracting, for the reader may be forced to reread the first half of your sentence in order to understand the second half:
Gulliver's antipathy for all human beings, best expressed when he declares that "I could not endure my wife or children in my presence; the very smell of them was intolerable, much less could I suffer them to eat in the same room," is so extreme that one must term him mad, especially considering that his family and Don Pedro have treated him kindly and gently.
Here, replacing one convoluted sentence with two shorter ones greatly simplifies the reader's task:
Gulliver's antipathy for all human beings is best expressed when he declares that "I could not endure my wife or children in my presence; the very smell of them was intolerable, much less could I suffer them to eat in the same room." His revulsion is so extreme that one must term him mad, especially considering that his family and Don Pedro have treated him kindly and gentler.
A number of small changes such as this one can greatly enhance the clarity and grace of a paper.
Spacing and Punctuating Quotations
Various conventions govern the spacing and punctuating of quotations:
1. Short direct quotations: Short quotations, whether of verse or of prose, are enclosed in double quotation marks and incorporated into the text.
In "The Vanity of Human Wishes," Johnson declares that the poor traveler "walks the wild heath, and sings his toil away."
In Idler 73, Johnson seems almost to praise the pursuit of wealth, since it temporarily "secures us from weariness of ourselves."
When quoting two or three lines of verse, incorporate them into the text but separate them with a slash, leaving a space on each side of the slash.
In "The Vanity of Human Wishes," Johnson declares that "the needy traveller, serene and gay, / Walks the wild heath, and sings his toil away."
2. Longer direct quotations: Longer quotations--more than three lines of verse or four lines of prose--are separated from the text and indented. Do not enclose indented quotations in quotation marks. Do not single-space indented quotations: Double-space them, leaving an extra line of space before and after the quotation.
For long verse quotations, indent ten spaces from the left margin and reproduce the punctuation, spacing, and indentation of the lines accurately:
While not exaggerating Levet's good qualities, Johnson insists upon their importance:
His virtues walk'd their narrow round,
In this passage, as in many others, Johnson's praise for Levet is both ardent and measured.
For long prose quotations, indent ten spaces from the left margin. Do not center the quotation by indenting from the right margin as well:
Johnson's conclusion that wealth cannot buy happiness is hardly original, but his reasons for finding wealth insufficient- and his manner of stating his reasons-are worth noting:
Of riches, as of every thing else, the hope is more than the enjoyment; while we consider them as the means to be used, at some future time, for the attainment of felicity, we press on our pursuit ardently and vigorously, and that ardour secures us from the weariness of ourselves; but no sooner do we sit down to enjoy our acquisitions, than we find them insufficient to fill up the vacuities of life.
Almost casually, Johnson extends his statement about riches to include all human desires, maintaining that everything we wish for and obtain will disappoint us.
3. Quotations within quotations: Enclose quotations within quotations in single quotation marks.
W. J. Bate sees Johnson as a fierce advocate for free will and rea son: "The 'laying open' end 'confusing' of all determinism...is carried through every aspect of Johnson's writing on human life, on literature, and on everything else...." (145).
In a longer, indented quotation (not enclosed in double quotation marks), a quotation within a quotation is enclosed in double, not single, quotation marks.
4. Introducing quotations: When introducing a quotation with a complete sentence, use a colon before the quotation:
Friendship, Johnson says in Rambler 160, should be both pleasant and obtainable: "Every man might...find some kindred mind with which he could unite in confidence and friendship."
When introducing a quotation with a phrase such as "he says," use a comma before the quotation:
In Rambler 160 Johnson says, "Every man might...find some kindred mind with which he could unite in confidence and friendship."
When a phrase such as "he says" is used in the middle of a quotation, the phrase is preceded and followed by commas:
"Every man," Johnson says in Rambler 160, "might...find some kindred mind with which he could unite in confidence and friendship."
Often, quotations can be worked into the text without any introductory punctuation:
But in fact, Johnson says, our inclinations often lead us to extend friendship to the unworthy and to deny it to the deserving, with the result that "we see many straggling single about the world, unhappy for want of an associate, and pining with the necessity of confining their sentiments to their own bosoms."
5. Changes in quotations: Generally speaking, you should copy quotations exactly. In some situations, however, you may make slight changes in a quotation if you mark the changes correctly.
If you leave out part of a passage you quote, use an ellipsis (a series of three spaced periods) to show the omission. Be sure not to alter the meaning of the passage by omitting part of it. If you leave out words in the middle of a sentence, use three spaced periods to show the omission.
Affliction is inseparable from our present state; it adheres to all the inhabitants of this world, in different proportions indeed, but with an allotment that seems very little regulated by our own conduct.
Ellipsis in Middle
In Adventurer 120, Johnson declares that virtue will not protect us from the troubles all human beings experience: "Affliction...adheres to all the inhabitants of this world, in different proportions indeed, but with an allotment that seems very little regulated by our own conduct."
If you leave out words at the end of a sentence, use a period immediately after the quotation (i.e., do not leave a space before this period), followed by three spaced periods.
Ellipsis at End
In Adventurer 120, Johnson declares that no human being can escape unhappiness: "Affliction is inseparable from our present state; it adheres to all the inhabitants of this world...."
If you have to change or add a word for the sake of clarity or grammatical consistency, use square brackets (not parentheses) to indicate the chance
His habitual ways of meeting threat or pressure of am kind involve the courage of direct encounter, and the attempt to bring afuller knowledge to bear.
Quoted with Brackets
Bate says that "[Johnson's] habitual ways of meeting threat or pressure of any kind involve the courage of direct encounter, and the attempt to bring a fuller knowledge to bear."
Often, you can avoid the need for brackets simply by beginning the quotation at a later point:
Bate says that Johnnon's "habitual ways of meeting threat or pressure of any kind involve the courage of direct encounter, and the attempt to bring a fuller knowledge to bear."
If you want to emphasize part of a quotation, underline it and indicate parenthetically that you have done so
Idler73 may seem a conventional essay about the Unhappiness that often accompanies wealth, but it soon becomes apparent that Johnson is commenting not only on wealth but on all human desires: "of riches, as of everything else, the hope is more than the enjoyment...." (emphasis added)
6. Quotation marks with other punctuation marks:
Commas and periods are always placed inside quotation marks, whether or not they are part of the quotation
Declaring that "wit, as well as valor, must be content to share its honors with fortune," Johnson points to the large role that chance plays in human life.
Pointing to the large role that chance inevitably plays in human life, Johnson declares that 'twit, as well as valor, must be content to share its honors with fortune."
Semicolons and colons are always placed outside quotation marks, whether or not they are part of the quotation:
Johnson declares that 'twit, as well as valor, must be content to share its honors with fortune"; thus, he points to the large role chance inevitably plays in human life.
Dashes, question marks, and exclamation points are placed inside quotation marks when they are part of the quotation and outside when they are not:
Inviting us to examine the history of past ages, Johnson asks, "what do they offer toour meditation but crimes and calamities? "
What, we may ask, is Johnson implying when he declares that '`it, as well as valor, must be content to share its honors with fortune"?
1. Present tense: Most writers use the present tense to describe events in poetry, fiction, or drama.
In East of Eden, Adam Trask triesto create a paradise for his wife and is utterly crushed when she proves unworthy.
Most writers also use the present tense to describe the statements authors make in their works.
In The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck portrays the sufferings of the Okies and condemns the banks and corporations responsible for their misery.
2. Past tense: The past tense, however, is used to describe events in an author's life.
Steinbeck wrote The Winter of Our Discontent toward Me end of his career.
Using the first-person pronoun is becoming more common and acceptable in formal critical writing. Saying "I will argue" certainly seems simpler and more direct than saying "The author will argue" or "This paper will argue." You should not overuse the first-person pronoun, however, by continually prefacing statements with "I think," "I feel," or "It is my belief." If you simply state your opinions, readers will assume that they are yours.
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