Most quotes should be very short. A short quote is usually consider to be under two lines in length with the fewer the words the better. Even long quotes should be as brief as possible. In general, the use of quotes should be kept to a minimum.
Remember that using quotes does not relieve you of the responsibility of expressing the ideas for yourself. Usually, a longer direct quote — often set off in an indented paragraph — should be accompanied by your own paraphrase of the quoted passage. This shows your reader how you interpret the passage and draws out the points that you think are worth emphasizing. Shorter direct quotes may also be used effectively as part of a paraphrase or summary. Since you need to paraphrase anyway, there is no point using long direct quotes unless:
- The point is so important that it is worth saying twice (once by you and once by the original author).
- You need to document that the original author really does say what you claim she says, (for instance, if it is a surprising or out of character thing for this author to say). OR
- The original author’s turn of phrase is so clever or so apt at expressing the idea in question that you cannot resist sharing it with your reader.
Last updated 8/23/2012 by Sue Thompson