Using Quotations: How to Use Direct and Indirect Quotations

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Using quotations to support your ideas, research or positions is a large part of writing research papers. Direct quotations involve using the exact words from a source, and indirect quotations are summaries or paraphrases of information from a source. Which type you use more of largely depends on the field or subject area within which you are writing. The humanities, for example, tend to require more direct quotations; whereas, more scientific fields, such as the social and natural sciences, tend to require more indirect quotations.

Both direct and indirect quotations are useful, but the type of information you are quoting dictates which is better. With this in mind, there are four things you must do when using quotations in research writing:

  • Make a choice between direct and indirect quotations on a by-quote basis
  • Introduce the information
  • Discuss the information as it relates to your topic or thesis
  • Give credit by using in-text citations

Choosing between direct and indirect quotations

Deciding between direct and indirect quotations in your research paper is a matter of considering both the type of information you are presenting and the purpose the information serves. Follow the guidelines below to choose which type is more appropriate when you are using quotations.

When to use direct quotations:

  1. To demonstrate that someone who is an authority on the subject supports your position/point
  2. To preserve specific language that has significance in some way
  3. To show a position/argument that you intend to critique or write comments about
  4. To include a passage or quote that would lose meaning if you summarized or paraphrased it

When to use indirect quotations (paraphrasing and summarizing):

  1. To use ideas, thoughts or opinions from a source when there is no reason to use or value in using a direct quotation
  2. To use fewer words than are used in a source to state the information

Introducing information when using quotations

When using quotations, you must give your readers a clue that you are using information from a source and give credit. For this reason, you never want direct and indirect quotations to appear suddenly within your paper without an introduction, or signal phrase.

Providing a little information about the source and/or the quotation is necessary, such as the author, the author’s credentials, the name of the source (title), a summary about the source or something else. It is not necessary to include all of those things, but you should at least provide the author’s name when applicable and cite the quotation according to the official style guide under which you are writing by using parenthetical citations.

A signal phrase, with or without an author’s name, tells your reader something about the information you are about to present. A signal phrase is simply an introductory element. Make sure the verbs you use in signal phrases send the right message on how you feel about the quotation.

  • Neutral: [Author name] says…
  • Positive: [Author name] affirms…
  • Negative: [Author name] alleges…

In addition, vary the verbs you use to introduce both direct and indirect quotations. Using the same verbs in every signal phrase creates repetition and hurts the strength of your paper. Other verbs that work well in signal phrases include:

  • adds
  • advocates
  • affirms
  • claims
  • comments
  • declares
  • notes
  • observes
  • proposes
  • remarks
  • says
  • states
  • stresses
  • thinks
  • writes

Alternatively, you may also use an independent phrase followed by a colon as a signal phrase for direct and indirect quotations. Some examples include the following:

  • [Author name] offers the following explanation:
  • [Author name] takes a different argument/position/stance:
  • [Author name] makes this point:
  • [Author name] distinguishes between the differences:
  • This is best said/shown/demonstrated in the words of [author name]:

Discussing information when using quotations

When using quotations, you never want to leave direct and indirect quotations standing on their own. In other words, do not assume the quotations used are self-explanatory. Think of quotations as examples, and discuss all quotations.

Direct and indirect quotations provide the support for your thesis—they illustrate the point you are making. Quotations are not used in place of your own thoughts and ideas, and they are not solitary statements that can stand alone. What you write after using direct and indirect quotations should focus on answering one or more of the below questions:

  • What is the meaning of the quotation as it relates to your thesis?
  • How does the quotation help you convey your point(s)?
  • What is your opinion/interpretation of the quotation?

How you use quotations and they type you use affects the quality of your paper. Make sure you are using both direct and indirect quotations correctly by using the right format in the right situation. In addition, always vary the way you present information, and follow the citing guidelines of any official style guide you are required to follow to avoid plagiarism while giving credit where it is due.