Documentation, part 3:
When and how to use a quotation

Be sure to read Barnet's discussion of use of quotations and avoiding plagiarism on pages 232 - 334 of the 11th edition of A Short Guide to Writing About Art.

In the mean time, here are a few basic pointers for appropriate use of quotations:

The rule of thumb is: More than three--possibly four--consecutive words, not counting short words such as "a," "the," "and," "in," or "but" need either quotation marks and a footnote or (more rarely) simple acknowledgement of the author in the text of your paper.

Don't worry about phrases that are in common use, such as "Italian Renaissance Art" or "Italian Renaissance painting and sculpture" as it's hard to find graceful alternatives. But be careful not to extend this too far, and be sure to read "But How Else Can I Put It?" on pages 331-332 the 11th edition of Barnet's A Short Guide to Writing About Art

When to quote?? As you do your research you may find a phrase or passage that would be hard to put into your own words without distorting the meaning or losing the flavor of the original. Or perhaps it's a delightful phase or passage that will add depth and sparkle to your paper. This is an appropriate time to use a direct quote.

For example, author Sue Hubbel chose a direct quote when writing about 19th century reporter Polly Pry's efforts to free Alferd Packer, who survived an ill-fated 1883 expedition in southwestern Colorado by resorting to cannibalism. He had been tried and sentenced to death, and a tipsy spectator returned to the saloon to share somewhat skewed but justly famous news of the Judge's sentencing speech:

Well boys ... Packer's to hang. The Judge, God bless him! says, says he: 'Stand up, yah man-eatin' son of a bitch ... They was siven Dimmycrats in Hinsdale County, but you, yah voracious ... son of a bitch, yah et five of thim! I sintince ye t'be hanged by th' neck ontil y're dead, dead, dead; as a warnin' ag'in reducin' the Dimmycratic popalashun of th' State.'1

This is appropriate use of a direct quote, as there's no way to paraphrase it without losing the (rather horrible) humor of the original. Note that I've used a block quotation followed by a footnote. This makes it clear that the fairly long passage is a direct quote. There's no need for quotation marks around a block quote. And as you'll see in the example above, a quotation within a quotation, is indicated with 'single' rather than "double" quotation marks.

In contrast, you should embed a short quote into the body of your text, using quotation marks to indicate the beginning and end of the quotation, and following the quotation with a footnote. For example, you might have reason to quote a short passage from Rupert Brooke's haunting sonnet "The Hill," "We shall go down with unreluctant tread, / Rose-crowned, into the darkness!"2 The slash / of course indicates a break between the lines in the poem.

Please note that unless you're consulting a digital source with no pagination, you should include in your footnote the page number containing the phrase or passage that you have quoted.

Occasionally it's appropriate to acknowledge the author of a quotation in the text of your paper, but omit a footnote. This indicates that the quotation is so famous that it falls under common knowledge. In the example below there's no need for a footnote because I acknowledge the author, use quotation marks, and Rudyard Kipling's delectable Just So Stories are so famous that a well-read person would recognize the quote. However, I would need a footnote if I didn't mention Kipling when using the quote.

George's cake--like the one baked by Kipling's Parsee--was "indeed a Superior Comestible."

BEWARE OF THE TOO-CLOSE PARAPHRASE! Some students get into trouble by quoting three or four words without quotation marks, putting in a bridge of a few of their own words, and then a another short quoted phrase without quotation marks, another bridge of their own words, etc. This is a form of plagiarism because it is editing a paragraph by someone else, retaining the structure and much of the text--yet presenting it as their own work.

1Sue Hubbel, "Polly Pry did not Just Report the News; She Made It," Smithsonian 21, no. 10 (January 1991): 48.
2Rupert Brooke, "The Hill," in The Collected Poems of Rupert Brooke, with an introduction by George Edward Wodberry (New York: Dodd, Mead, and Company, 1935) 65.

© Jan Mainzer