How to Quote in an Essay

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Learning how to quote can be a headache, but it’s an important skill to have. After all, badly-referenced essays tend to produce poor grades, or even worse, plagiarism!

That said, writers from our essay writing service will show you how to quote other people’s ideas accurately and effectively.

Quoting in an essay: the basics

Each referencing style has its own rules. However, here are some general points to keep in mind when using quotes in your essays:

  • Use quotes sparingly – Quotes can be great for creating an impact. But, if you over-use them, your lecturer may doubt your understanding of the text. So, it’s best to use quotes sparingly and keep them short-and-sweet.
  • Embed shorter quotes in quotation marks – If the quote is short enough to fit in the main body of your essay, it should be embedded in quotation marks. Whether you use single or double quotation marks will depend on your chosen referencing style.
  • Longer quotes don’t require quotation marks – If the quote is longer than 3 lines, it should start on a new line, and the entire quote should be indented. Also, longer quotes do not need to go in quotation marks.
  • Page numbers – If you are citing someone else’s ideas verbatim (word-for-word), you should cite the page number.
  • Vary how you introduce the quotes – The commonest way to introduce an author’s quote is, “According to Smith (2010, p.10) …” Try to vary the introductory phrases you use so that your essay doesn’t feel like a list of ideas.

As mentioned, the precise method for quoting another person’s work will depend on the reference style you are using. Since Harvard is the most common referencing style in the UK, let’s begin there.

How to quote in Harvard style

Generally speaking, when you quote another person’s work in Harvard style, you should provide the following information in parentheses (brackets):

  • The author(s) surname(s)
  • The date of the publication
  • The page number (if no page number is available, you should put n.p.)

The quote should be placed in single quotation marks (or inverted commas), as per the example below:

It has been said that ‘It is human action that will determine the climate of the future, not systems beyond our control’ (Wallace-Wells, 2019, p.56).

The surname, date, and page number do not need to go inside one set of parentheses. Instead, you can split this information up:

Wallace-Wells (2019) argues that ‘It is human action that will determine the climate of the future, not systems beyond our control’ (p.56).

OR

Wallace-Wells (2019, p.56) argues that ‘It is human action that will determine the climate of the future, not systems beyond our control.’

How to quote multiple authors

If you are citing the work of 2 authors, both authors should be named. Alternatively, if there are 3 or more authors, the first author’s name can be followed by et al. For example:

(Smith and Holmes, 2009, p.11)
(Smith & Holmes, 2009, p.11)
(Martin et al., 2010, p.12)
(Martin et al. 2010, p.12)

Remember to be consistent. So, if you begin using ‘and’, don’t suddenly switch to ‘&’.

Getting the punctuation right

Often, students wonder whether they should put the full-stop inside or outside of the closing quotation mark. This depends on whether the full-stop is part of the quotation or not. It also depends on whether there are parentheses at the end of the sentence or not.

The following table explains:

YesNo
Placement of the full-stop.Inside the closing quotation markOutside the closing quotation
Is the quotation a full sentence in its own right?Wallace-Wells (2019, p.56) argues that ‘It is human action that will determine the climate of the future, not systems beyond our control.’Wallace-Wells (2019, p.56) argues that the unfolding of climate change is not inevitable; rather, it is human intervention that will ‘determine the climate of the future’
Are the parentheses in the body of the sentence (rather than at the end)?Wallace-Wells (2019, p.56) argues that ‘It is human action that will determine the climate of the future, not systems beyond our control.’It has been said that ‘It is human action that will determine the climate of the future, not systems beyond our control’ (Wallace-Wells, 2019, p.56).

The rules of punctuation can be complicated, particularly when it comes to quotations. Also, there is some disagreement, even amongst specialists, regarding the placement of the full-stop. So, as always, follow your university’s style guide.

How to cite longer quotes in Harvard style

If the quote you want to include in your essay is more than 3 lines long, you should begin a new line and indent the text. Also, as shown in the example below, you should not put quotation marks around the quote.

In his book-length text, Wallace-Wells (2019, p.56) states that,
Yet to the extent we live today under clouds of uncertainty about climate change, those clouds are projections not of collective ignorance about the natural world but blindness about the human one, and can be dispersed by human action. This is what it means to live beyond “the end of nature” – that it is human action that will determine the climate of the future, not systems beyond our control.

You will notice that the author’s name, date and page number have still been cited above the quotation. You must include the information to avoid being accused of plagiarism!

How to quote in APA style

APA style is similar to Harvard style, though there are a few important differences, particularly in relation to the type of quotation marks used.

How to cite short quotations (less than 40 words)

Firstly, all direct quotes should be in double quotation marks. Example:

Wallace-Wells (2019, p.56) argues that “It is human action that will determine the climate of the future, not systems beyond our control.”

Moreover, you should place full-stops inside the closing quotation marks, regardless of whether the quotation is an entire sentence or a fragment of a sentence. Notice how both the sentence above and the sentence below have the full-stop inside the closing quotation mark.

Wallace-Wells argues (2019, p.56) that the unfolding of climate change is not inevitable; rather, it is human intervention that can “determine the climate of the future.”

According to APA style, other punctuation (such as question marks) should go outside the closing quotation mark, unless that punctuation forms part of the quotation. So, the following sentences are both correct according to APA style:

How will society be impacted by Wallace-Wells’ (2019, p.39) suggestion that “Humans must take action”? It is hoped that his suggestion will make a difference…
In his book, Wallace-Wells (2019, p.40) asks, “Is 2020 the year that humans will take action?”

Citing longer quotations

If you want to quote more than 40 words, you’ll need to start the quote on a new line. APA is a bit stricter than Harvard though, so you will need to observe the following conventions:

  • Indent the quote by 0.5 inches from the left margin
  • Ensure the text is double-spaced
  • Don’t use quotation marks around the text
  • You can cite the author’s surname and the date of the publication in the narrative above the quote. However, you should, place the page number in parentheses at the end of the quote. Alternatively, you can place the surname, date, and page number in parentheses at the end of the quote.

Feeling confused? See the examples below:

In his book-length text, Wallace-Wells (2019) argues that,
Yet to the extent we live today under clouds of uncertainty about climate change, those clouds are projections not of collective ignorance about the natural world but blindness about the human one, and can be dispersed by human action. This is what it means to live beyond “the end of nature” – that it is human action that will determine the climate of the future, not systems beyond our control. (p.56)

OR

It has been said that,
Yet to the extent we live today under clouds of uncertainty about climate change, those clouds are projections not of collective ignorance about the natural world but blindness about the human one, and can be dispersed by human action. This is what it means to live beyond “the end of nature” – that it is human action that will determine the climate of the future, not systems beyond our control. (Wallace-Wells, 2009 p.56)

In either case, the parentheses come after the last full-stop.

Quoting in OSCOLA style

OSCOLA originated from Oxford University and is used for Law or Law-related disciplines. Since it was derived at a British University, it tends to follow British-English punctuation conventions.

Also, instead of putting the date and page number in parentheses after the author’s surname, this information goes in the footnote.

How to reference short quotations

As mentioned, OSCOLA referencing uses footnotes rather than in-text references. As such, after a quotation, you simply need to insert the superscript number (Word: References>Insert Footnote). You can refer to the author’s surname in the text, but the date and page number should be placed in the footnote. In addition, the quotation should be in single quotation marks:

Wallace-Wells argues that ‘It is human action that will determine the climate of the future, not systems beyond our control.’ 12

12 David Wallace-Wells, The Uninhabitable Earth (Penguin, 2019) 56.

How to reference longer quotations

OSCOLA style states that, if a quote is longer than 3 lines, it should be placed on a new line. Also, as is the case with Harvard and APA, quote marks should not be placed around longer quotations. However, a quote-within-the-quote can be placed in double quotation marks.

If any parts of the quotation are removed to shorten the quote, the following convention should be used (…)

If you are in any doubt, this excellent guide provides an overview of how to quote according to OSCOLA style (p. 8-9).

Is it good or bad to use quotes in an essay?

Quotes can enhance an essay, as long as they are used appropriately. But when is it ‘appropriate’ to quote someone else’s words?

Well,

  • If an author coined a particular term or phrase (e.g. ‘the gig-economy’), it is appropriate to quote this phrase directly.
  • If re-phrasing the quote would change the meaning and/or significantly lessen its impact, it’s acceptable to use the quote as it is.
  • If you are analysing a fiction text in detail, you should probably include plenty of direct quotes. For example, if you are writing an English Literature essay.

On the other hand, you should think twice about quoting directly when:

  • You have a very limited word count to play with.
  • You already have lots of direct quotes in your essay – remember, verbatim quotes should be used sparingly.

Finding your voice

Instead of relying on too many quotes, try to write other people’s ideas in your own words. This will certainly earn you better grades. If you’re not very confident about doing this, try to compromise. Instead of citing the entire quote, just pick out the most important phrase, and write the rest in your own words.

So, you might say something like,

Wallace-Wells (2019, p.56) argues that the unfolding of climate change is not inevitable; on the contrary, strategic ‘human action’ has the power to halt climate change and environmental degradation.

This sentence ‘borrows’ from the credibility of the quote, but it also demonstrates a clear understanding of the author’s argument because it has been written in original language.

Indeed, you should ‘stand on the shoulders of giants’, not quote giants verbatim.

As a final piece of advice, be careful when re-phrasing other people’s ideas. It’s important to make enough changes so that you are not accused of plagiarism!

At Ivory Research, we take a zero-tolerance approach to plagiarism – whether intentional or accidental. That’s why we regularly offer free Plagiarism Reports to new customers. After all, we want you to be 100% sure of the originality of our work!
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