Writing the perfect essay presents a number of challenges to writers. Coming up with a lot of original content can pose a challenge, as can keeping your material focused, engaging, and unique. There’s also the question of experience: many writers simply don’t have the life experiences or talents and skills needed to write an engaging and honest essay about the material they’ve selected as their subject matter. In order to get over these hurdles, writers might choose a number of different solutions. There’s the less popular and frowned upon plagiarism, which usually results from writers copying another person’s material either intentionally or inadvertently. There’s also the habit of creating disingenuous or flat out false material when you need to convey an idea but don’t know how to do so truthfully. However, the secret to writing a good essay is actually not in the quantity of original content a writer produces, but the quality of the writing sourced and offered. What does this mean? This means that writers can and should use quotations throughout their essays and other narrative writing in order to provide unique, compelling, and meaningful material without resorting to dubious writing techniques.
Using quotations in an essay can serve a number of different purposes. Many writers use quotes to bring in concepts or ideas originally presented by a different person. If the quotation furthers an argument or emphasizes a point the second writer is hoping to make, including a quote from another person serves to reinforce the idea without requiring the author to repeat themselves over and over again. They present a sort of social proof, a public affirmation that the idea the author has is substantial, innovative, and supported by other speakers. Leading the way with a quote in your essay, especially one by an inspirational or motivational figure, is a great way to set the tone for your essay and draw public attention to your content through the lens of a famous figure. Enhancing your credibility and strengthening your ideas through the words of another are useful skills for any writer to master. Quotations as a literary device are also good ways to break up the narrative structure of an essay. If you feel that you’re droning on and on and failing to keep your material innovative and fresh, introducing a quote can help dispel the monotony of your writing and draw your reader’s attention back to your original purpose. Finally, a featured quotation (whether by a famous figure or by the original writer itself) helps your piece stand out from the crowd. A single memorable quotation can do more to make the content and ideas of an essay last in the minds of its audience than an entire page of written content. By successfully utilizing the power of quotations throughout an essay, writers enhance their credibility and support their ideas, ensuring they stand out and remain in the hearts and minds of readers long after they’ve finished reading the essay.
However, writers need to be careful when it comes to including quotes in their work. It’s easy to plagiarize if you don’t know how to include quotes properly in your work. Plagiarism brings a whole host of other problems to writers, including copyright infringement, flagged work, and even removal (and potential lawsuits) regarding your content. Consider this example.
Let’s say that a young writer wants to quote a section of a book they’ve recently read in their assigned English essay. They copy and paste the material from the book to make sure they’ve got the content exactly right, and place it in the middle of their essay, something like this:
In Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone, the Dursleys did not like Harry’s family very much. The Dursleys had everything they wanted, but they also had a secret, and their greatest fear was that somebody would discover it. They didn’t think they could bear it if anyone found out about the Potters.
Such a sentence would immediately get flagged as plagiarized because the author has done nothing to indicate that someone else originally wrote the text of the book. The quote is presented as though it is the essay writer’s original thoughts, and a reader would not be able to tell that it is not original content.
Properly introducing a quote means that you can signify that the words you’re referencing are not your original content, but that they do bear some relevance to the remainder of your essay. In order to introduce a quote into your essay, you’ll need to remember the following things.
Cite Your Source
Knowing the true and authentic source of your original quotation is important because you’ll need to give them credit when you use their words. For example, in the paragraph above the essay writer could have said something like: “J.K. Rowling writes in her book, “The Dursleys had everything they wanted, but they also had a secret, and their greatest fear was that somebody would discover it. They didn’t think they could bear it if anyone found out about the Potters.” By using both the name of the author and quotation marks, the essay writer is emphasizing that the quoted text is not their own and belongs to someone else but still gets to use it in their text.
Keep Length In Mind
Sometimes, the length of a quote isn’t always the best thing. When it comes to quotes, you need to be conscious that some readers simply don’t want to read a lengthy quotation from an author that isn’t even you. By including longer blocks of text, you make it less likely that the audience will read your quote in full and eliminate the necessity of including said quote in the first place. Generally, a good quote is between one to three sentences in length, although they can be longer or shorter.
Block or No Block?
Sometimes you may find yourself needing to quote a large chunk of text in your essay. Whether it’s to serve a narrative purpose or to outline a section of text you’ll be dissecting, including large blocks of text can be done, but they require special formatting in order to indicate that the entire length of the text is a quotation that is unoriginal. Known as a block quote, these lengthier quotations include any quote that is longer than three lines of typed text. The quote itself is turned into a miniature paragraph and formatted apart from the rest of the body of the essay to emphasize its difference. Consider this example:
In J.K. Rowling’s book Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, it is clear from the first description of the Potter family that the Dursleys do not like the Potters.
The Dursleys had everything they wanted, but they also had a secret, and their greatest fear was that somebody would discover it. They didn’t think they could bear it if anyone found out about the Potters. Mrs. Potter was Mrs. Dursley’s sister, but they hadn’t met for several years; in fact, Mrs. Dursley pretended she didn’t have a sister, because her sister and her good-for-nothing husband were as unDursleyish as it was possible to be. The Dursleys shuddered to think what the neighbors would say if the Potters arrived in the street.
Here, the block quote emphasizes the length and separateness of the text, making it obvious that the text is quoted but still including it together in its entirety in order to set it aside from the other lines.
Writers should try very hard to only introduce quotes that are relevant to the essay topic at hand. While it may be tempting to throw quotations into an essay whenever possible, having too many packed in at once can actually overwhelm the essay and drown out the original content the writer is trying to emphasize. Filter out unnecessary quotes by looking at the thesis statement of your essay and trying to make a direct connection between your quote and the thesis. If you’re unable to make a direct connection, that’s a good sign that your quote won’t add anything to the rest of your essay.
Once you’ve reviewed these qualifying factors to ensure that your quote is relevant, length-appropriate, and ready to be used in your essay, you will need to begin practicing naturally entering quotes into your essay. There are several major ways to do this.
Complete Sentence and Colon
You can enter quotes into an essay very easily by first prefacing them with a complete sentence and a colon. Perhaps the most popular way to introduce quotes, this method is standard for English writers but has a tendency to feel dry and rehearsed if you’re not careful. It’s important to make sure your complete sentence is well-written but not too long or too dense so you don’t overshadow your quote.
Example: The Dursleys did not like the Potters in the first Harry Potter book: “Mrs. Dursley pretended she didn’t have a sister.”
Example: The Dursleys were a content family: “the Dursleys had everything they wanted.”
Introductory or explanatory phrase separated by a comma
Another common way to introduce quotes into an essay, this method is favored because it allows authors to preface or explain the quote by adding context before or after the phrase being quoted. By including explanatory phrasing, the writer takes the guesswork out of the quote and provides valuable context that the reader may not have obtained otherwise.
Example: Petunia Dursley did not like her sister, “she pretended she didn’t have a sister.”
Example: The Potters did not fit in well with the Dursleys, “ they were as unDursleyish as it was possible to be.”
Blend the quotation into your own sentence without breaking up the flow of the quote
This method of quote introduction allows for the seamless integration of textual quotes without breaking up the narrative flow of an essay. By blending the quote right into your own sentence, you eliminate the need for extra or unnecessary explanatory phrases and introductory phrases that require extra context in order to be understood.
Example: The Potters were unusual people who were considered “as unDursleyish as it was possible to be”.
Example: The Dursleys “had a secret and their greatest fear was that” they were very afraid of people discovering the truth about them.
Shorten the quotation to just the bare essentials of your phrasing
By breaking down your quote into tidbits of information you’d like to convey, you remove the tiresome and draining extra content from your essay and focus the attention on the emotional focus quotes you’d like your audience to remember the most. This technique is also helpful for writers who want to discuss specific phrases or emotions expressed by the person they’re quoting but who can’t fit the entire quote in its original context into their essay.
Example: The Dursleys “had a secret” they didn’t want to tell anyone. Example: Mrs. Potter and Mrs. Dursley were estranged and hadn’t met in “several years.”
Including quotes in an essay can feel intimidating, but with patience and practice, even novice essay writers will recognize the value of including quotations in their work. From inspirational to practical, the usages of quotations in personal writing are infinite, and knowing how to appropriately enter and apply quotations in an essay improves your writing skills tenfold. By including a simple quote, writers can easily boost their credibility and support their argument, making their case compelling and their writing even more profound. In the words of the immortal writer Jack Kerouac, “someday I will find the right words, and they will be simple.”