Sunday, August 9, 2009

Effective Quoting Skills: Part I

Everyone knows that quoting from an outside source provides evidence and examples for an effective essay. Quotation serves a vital role in the process, yet its two siblings, summarizing and paraphrasing, play just as important a part. As a writer of essays, you need the ability to do all three, and to know when each is required. This blogpost explains aspects of effective quotation.

The Basics

You will either quote small "snippets" of another source or formally introduced sections of at least an independent clause in length. With snippets, you incorporate them into the framework of your own sentence and use the exact punctuation you would if the words were your own. With formal quotes, you ready the reader for what's coming, providing information and background that makes the quoted material clear.


Snippet quoting (refers to the short story "Charles," by Shirley Jackson):
Jackson, in describing Laurie's actions, mentions that he "yelled all the way up the hill" and that his voice was "raucous" (Jackson 1*)

Formally-introduced major quotation:
Jackson introduces irony when she characterizes the parents' lack of awareness of Laurie's deception. The narrator and Laurie's father discuss their concerns about the negative influences the misbehaving boy may be having on their child: “Do you think kindergarten is too unsettling for Laurie? . . . this Charles boy sounds like such a bad influence,” his mother worries (Jackson 1). Her husband's reply ironically reflects their total obliviousness about what Laurie is actually doing: “Bound to be people like Charles in the world. Might as well meet them now as later,” he says (Jackson 1).

*For the purpose of demonstrating quotation skills, I am only listing the citation in a rudimentary way, to avoid complication. The actual page number listed will always depend on what source you use, and repeated references to the same author/page will usually be indicated after the first reference with the term Ibid, which means "in the same place."

The Importance of Leading In and Out of a Quotation
For snippet quoting, your own comments usually provide all the explanation that is needed so that the snippet makes complete sense. However, with a formally introduced quote, you need to both prepare the reader beforehand and move forward to interpretation afterward.

Evel Knievel and the Motorcycle Jump**
Stunt motorcyclist Evel Knievel was famous for finding longer and longer obstacles to propel himself over, atop his stunt bike. He and his crew set up elaborate ramps before and after the obstacles that would ensure he both crossed completely and landed safely on the other side. When he didn't, and he often didn't, he was injured in the resulting crash. Fortunately, he lived to the ripe old age of 69.

What does all this have to do with quotation incorporation? What Evel did is akin to what a writer does when placing quoted material in an essay. First, build a ramp up that will guide your reader safely across the quoted passage, and then on the other side, build a ramp down that gets the reader back to your main point and on to the next point. Without preparing your reader with context and background, you fail to "ramp up." Without a transition out that interprets the quote's implications, you fail to guide your reader down, and the lack of a ramp results in a terrible crash. Be kind to your readers! Use adequate ramps!

**I owe my colleague, Mark Gelineau, a huge thank-you for introducing me to this metaphor. It works so well!

Next: Paraphrasing and summarizing, and the role each plays in the use of direct quotation, as well as in citing source materials more indirectly.


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