What is a Good Quotation?

A quotation can be any sentence(s) from a text. Quotations do NOT have to be dialogue (i.e. when characters are speaking in a novel or play).

A GOOD quotation should be:

  • “juicy” in the sense that you can squeeze a lot of information out of it
  • flavorful by providing another voice other than your own
  • an excellent source of evidence that can prove or disprove an argument

Juiciness:

Take a look at the following quotation:

“The boy closed his book.”

This quotation isn’t juicy because…

  • you can’t really squeeze a lot of information out of it
  • it sounds more like a summary sentence than an important detail that could support an idea
  • it most likely could be paraphrased without losing any meaning

Now, examine this quotation:

“Nature’s first green is gold.”

This quotation is juicy because…

  • it begs to be explained
  • it has a LOT to say because it’s full of meaning
  • if it were paraphrased a lot of meaning would be lost

Flavorful Voice:

Compare the following paragraphs:

Punishments don’t always fit the crime. Sometimes the consequences can either be too severe or too lenient. For instance, some criminals receive community service for serious crimes, while other offenders  serve years in prison for fairly minor infractions of the law.

The paragraph above does not have the benefit of a quotation to enhance the author’s words. While the argument is reasonably logical, it would only be further improved by evidence from an outside source.

Punishments don’t always fit the crime. Sometimes the consequences can either be too severe or too lenient. For instance, some criminals receive community service for serious crimes, while other offenders  serve years in prison for fairly minor infractions of the law. According to a recent study, “many drug users spend years  in prison” (46).

The quotation in this paragraph does add a study to back up the argument. However, the quotation mostly just repeats the point already made by the author. Furthermore, the information in the quotation is too general and communicates basic information. Good quotations should extend and enhance the author’s idea.

Punishments don’t always fit the crime. Sometimes the consequences can either be too severe or too lenient. For instance, some criminals receive community service for serious crimes, while other offenders  serve years in prison for fairly minor infractions of the law. According to a prominent Professor of Criminology, “while there are mandatory minimum sentences for drug users who primarily harm themselves, white collar criminals whose corporate crimes can affect hundreds of citizens get a mere slap on the wrist by the judicial system” (103).

Now, this juicy quotation adds the voice of an authoritative outside source. The language of the quotation (such as “a mere slap on the wrist”) represents another voice and opinions that both makes the argument more rich and complex.

Excellent Evidence:

Often times your argument is only as good as the evidence you provide. You can make a logical argument, but the simple act of adding specific evidence will go a long way to clarifying and strengthening your argument.

Each of the paragraphs below introduces a quotation that reinforces and enriches the primary argument. Normally, these quotations would be explained further with your own words to solidify your point.

Statistics:

One popular stereotype about girls is that they perform worse than boys in math. However, a careful examination the statistics reveals that “20 years ago boys in high school performed 15% better than girls in math. But, the researchers found, that is no longer the case with boys and girls scoring nearly the same on all tests. The reason, they said, is simple: Girls used to take fewer advanced math courses than boys, but now they are taking just as many” (76).

Evidence from Text:

Most people think that history is formed by great leaders and outstanding individuals. Yet, Howard Zinn makes clear in his groundbreaking A People’s History of the United States that all the great movements that have shaped the U.S. were grassroots and shaped by the contributions of normal salt of the earth folks. For example, in Beyond the Fields, before Cesar Chavez rose to prominence as a union organizer, “The primary Mexican and Filipino workforce, along with poor whites and blacks … staged more than 140 strikes in the California fields from 1930 to 1939; in 1933 alone, more than fifteen thousand predominantly Mexican cotton workers were on strike” (15).

Expert Analysis:

It is a common myth that most college dropouts left college because they couldn’t make the grade. In fact, according to Revolving College Doors, authors Cope and Hannah suggest that “more students choose to leave college because of disillusionment, discouragement, and dissatisfaction than for any other reason” (112).

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