Using Direct Quotations in Your Thesis or Dissertation
Whenever you quote the exact words of another author or speaker in your thesis or dissertation, it is essential that you quote those words with accuracy and observe with precision and consistency all appropriate scholarly techniques and editorial styles. Your university may provide you with guidelines specifying how you should quote and cite sources, or it may refer you to a specific style manual. If you have received such guidance, presenting and formatting any quotations you use exactly as you are directed will be a necessary aspect of producing a successful thesis or dissertation. If you have not, there are still basic practices that should be observed when quoting sources in all scholarly writing, and they will be expected regardless of whether you have been provided with more detailed guidelines or not.
Accuracy is vital when quoting the words of another author or speaker, so pay special attention when initially typing in quotations and take the time to check each one against its source when you proofread your work. Errors creep into quoted material with alarming frequency, so it is wise never to assume that quotations are correct. Remember that if you make errors in quoted material, you are not only compromising your work, but also misrepresenting the author you are quoting. Recording quotations inaccurately and arguing your case on the basis of erroneous information are unethical and unprofessional practices and they can certainly undermine the argument you hoped to support by using quotations.
Correct and consistent formatting is also essential when directly quoting sources. Your text must be presented in such a way that it is clear to the reader exactly which words are borrowed. When quotations are short and embedded in your main text, they should appear in the font size you are using for your own prose and must be enclosed in quotation marks. Single (‘’) or double (“”) quotation marks will work, but do check any guidelines provided by your university to be sure you are using the preferred format if there is one. The same type of quotation marks must be used for every embedded quotation. The other type can then be used for any quotations that appear within quoted material – double marks within single ones or single marks within double – and these, too, must be used consistently in every relevant instance.
If you are quoting longer prose passages or several lines of poetry, they can be displayed as block quotations, generally with indentation, at least on the left margin, and often in a slighter smaller font than your main text. In such cases, no quotation marks are necessary because the block format indicates which words are borrowed.
Whether you are using quotation marks or block quotation, remember that italic font is not a correct format for indicating quoted material in academic and scientific writing in the English language. Italics should therefore only be used when and where the author you are quoting used them, or when you wish to emphasise certain words within a quotation. In the latter case, the italics should be acknowledged as your own addition.
Every quotation you use should also be accompanied by a reference to its source. Methods and styles of referencing vary, so do make sure that you are using the kind of references recommended by your department. Whether your references are parenthetical, numerical or note based, always remember to include with every quotation a page number or other precise location specifying exactly where readers can find the borrowed text.
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During your research you use many ideas and studies from other researchers. You do this because your dissertation or thesis further explores previous research. Using someone else’s research can be done in two ways, namely by quoting or paraphrasing that person’s work.
When you quote someone’s work you literally copy sentences; when you paraphrase, you state someone else’s idea in your own words.
However, it is important that you always cite the source you have used. If you do not do this, you commit plagiarism.
Quoting is when you literally copy a part of a text. It is wise to limit the use of quotes, as they do not improve the readability of your dissertation.
Plus, if you use many quotes, you will seem lazy. Next to that, when you use a quote it can give the impression that you did not understand the source or that you did not read the entire text. It is therefore wise to use a quote only when necessary.
For example, you can use one when you want to provide a definition of a certain concept. You can also consider using one when the author has written a sentence so beautifully or powerfully that a paraphrase would diminish the quality of the text. Finally, in some disciplines quotations play the role of evidence (e.g. in analysis of poetry).
Let the reader know they are reading a quote by placing it in quotation marks. If the quote is rather long (40+ words in APA Style), you will need to format it as indented text, making it a block quotation.
Example of a quote:
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a quote is: “A group of words taken from a text or speech and repeated by someone other than the original author or speaker” (Oxford English Dictionary, 2014).
Are you using the APA style for referring to your sources? The APA style has specific rules for the lay-out of a quote.
Always try to keep a quote as short as possible, preferably no longer than a few sentences. You can also shorten a quote; for example, you might replace a redundant or irrelevant part of a quote with ellipses (…).
However, make sure not to take a quote out of its context by, for instance, citing only one sentence that supports your research in a study that otherwise contradicts your research.
When you paraphrase something, you describe a (part of a) study in your own words. Doing so, you can fit an existing theory into your own research very easily.
However, even though the paraphrase is in your own words, the idea is still someone else’s. Therefore, you always have to cite your source when you paraphrase.
It is also important to always introduce the paraphrase. You can do this as follows: “Janssen (2008) states in his research that …”.
Example of paraphrasing
Paraphrase or summary?
The term “paraphrase” is generally used when someone describes someone else’s research in their own words. However, this is not entirely correct.
A paraphrase is a description of a certain quote from someone else, put in your own words. A paraphrase is therefore approximately of the same length as the source text’s quote.
When you completely or partially describe the outcome of a more substantial part of the research, it is called a summary.
There is a distinct difference between paraphrasing and summarizing. However, in general (as is also the case in many universities), both are called paraphrasing.
- Only quote or paraphrase the authors of papers that are authoritative in their field of research. You can find a list of important journals here.
- It is important that the quote or paraphrase has added value for your research. The quote or paraphrase should also fit in with the rest of the text. The text preceding or following the quote or paraphrase should clarify what you want to imply.
- A quote or paraphrase is not complete without a proper in-text citation and entry in your reference list, formatted correctly in the appropriate referencing style.
- Use the Scribbr Plagiarism Check to have peace of mind that your document is plagiarism free.
View the APA rules
“Research-based writing in American institutions, both educational and corporate, is filled with rules that writers, particularly beginners, aren’t aware of or don’t know how to follow. Many of these rules have to do with research and proper citation. Gaining familiarity with these rules, however, is critically important, as inadvertent mistakes can lead to charges of plagiarism, which is the uncredited use (both intentional and unintentional) of somebody else’s words or ideas.”
The Online Writing Lab at Purdue University (2014) states that many starting writers are not familiar with the rules of writing, which have much to do with using quotations correctly. They state that it is crucial to become acquainted with these rules, as mistakes can lead to committing unintentional plagiarism (which is the use of someone’s words or ideas without giving proper credit).