by Shamus Jarvis
When writing any research paper, there is a common temptation to incorporate numerous quotations into the paper with the expectation that a lot of external quotes, lacking interpretation, will lend authority to your argument. Unfortunately, an overabundance of quotes actually detracts from a writer’s thesis because the writer’s own voice becomes overshadowed by the various scholars that he or she is quoting in the paper. Although there is no specific rule regarding a maximum or minimum number of quotations a writer should include in each paragraph of a research paper, writers should endeavor to include original thought as much as possible and use quotations sparingly and judiciously.
In order to use quotations effectively to support your thesis, ensure that the following three elements accompany every source that you cite in your paper:
- a signal phrase to introduce the quote,
- the actual quotation, and
- explication that describes the significance of the quote.
Signal phrases allow you to transition smoothly from your own words to those of the person being quoted. These phrases set up the reader for the quotation by indicating who is being quoted and including any needed context for the quote. For example, if a writer wanted to include a quote from a particular speech, he or she might use the following signal phrase: In his 2014 State of the Union Address, United States President Barack Obama stated, “Opportunity is who we are. And the defining project of our generation is to restore that promise.”
Immediately following the quotation, the writer must include careful explication that illustrates the significance of the quote. Explication goes beyond mere summary and instead helps the reader understand how the quote relates to the writer’s thesis. Depending upon how important a quote is in the context of a paper, writers should devote at least one sentence to explication so that the reader understands how the quotation relates to the writer’s argument.
It might be helpful to think of integrated quotations as a sandwich, with the quotation nestled between a signal phrase and explication. The following is an example of an effective integrated quotation “sandwich”: As Caryl Phillips acknowledges in his introduction to Heart of Darkness, [Signal Phrase] “One of the great paradoxes of the novel is that while Marlow dislikes Kurtz for having abandoned all decent standards, he also admires this ivory trader for having had the courage to fearlessly explore his ‘dark’ side” (xiii). [Quote] Through the paradoxical nature of Marlow’s feelings toward Kurtz, Joseph Conrad effectively establishes Kurtz as an enigmatic figure whose ultimate submission to the forces of darkness accentuates the moral conflict between barbarism and civilization throughout the novella. [Explication]
Remember, all quotations should relate to the writer’s central claim and must be followed with explication so as not to distract from a writer’s own words. Signal phrase + Quotation + Explication = an effective integrated quotation.
Shamus is in his third year studying Theatre and English at Principia and looks forward to studying abroad in England for the fall semester. He will appear in the production of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale upon returning to campus in October.