If you want to see dramatic improvement in your writing, then focus on integrating quotations. It’s an area where many people struggle. Whereas in ordinary speech we easily introduce the words of others (he said; she was like), it somehow seems more difficult in writing. That’s why learning the rules is time well spent.
In fact, being able to integrate quotations will give you the confidence to interact with the ideas of others, to be part of a larger discussion. Quoting is not just about referencing a few lines of text that seem vaguely relevant. It’s about having a conversation.
On this page we’ll cover the basics of integrating quotations. All examples follow the MLA style rules.
The parts of a quotation
In academic writing, nearly every quotation is made up of three parts: a signal phrase, the quote itself, and some kind of citation:
Signal Phrase + Quote + Citation
Example: As Kurt Ramble argues, “Urban farming should be incorporated in the elementary school curriculum” (78).
The signal phrase consists of your own words that signal to the reader that there’s a quotation coming.
The quotation can be long or short. If it’s quite long then it may have to be formatted differently as a block quotation.
As for the citation, in this guide we will be using parentheses, but you could use footnotes or endnotes if you’re not following MLA conventions.
Now that we know the three basic parts of a quotation, we can zoom in a little more. Most quotations share the following details:
You’ll notice that this passage is not crammed full of bibliographic information. Most of the time you need mention only the author and the page or line number. Any other details should be saved for the works cited page. For example, you should mention titles only if they are directly relevant to your argument or if you are citing multiple works by the same author.
Types of Signal Phrases
Quotations are categorized by the way they are introduced, and there are three different signal phrases.
The short expression
One of the easiest ways to introduce a quotation is to announce who the speaker or author is and to add a verb that describes the way in which the idea is expressed:
Jonathan Truculent writes, “The best part of the pizza is the crust” (314).
As Iris Evans suggests, “Cell phones and tablets have increasingly overlapping capabilities” (58).
There are plenty of other verbs that work equally well:
argues, believes, notes, states, implies, observes, etc.
Note that many of these constructions are introduced by the conjunction as:
As Smith argues …
Now it should be pointed out that your signal phrase can include quite a bit more than the author and the verb. Here are some instances where the “short expression” is not all that short:
As Imagen Randolph suggests, in a salacious memoir that caused quite a scandal, “There was always inappropriate behaviour at his parties.”
John Connelly mentions the contrary opinion of Judge Gavel, who writes, “No jury should convict on those grounds” (qtd. in Connelly 23).
It was George Fandangle, the nineteenth-century antiquarian, who famously wrote about the Greek philosopher Stroumboulopoulos, “Just like the popular culture he analyzed, he is now mostly forgotten” (117).
Notice, however, that at the core of these signal phrases we still have the author and the verb. In all such cases we use a comma between the signal phrase and the quotation.
Checklist for the short expression:
- Does your signal phrase include at least a subject and a verb (e.g., He suggests?)
- Does your signal phrase end with a comma?
- If your quotation started at the beginning of a sentence in your source, have you kept the capital?
- Is the quotation a complete sentence?
- Have you put the appropriate closing punctuation after the parentheses (e.g., a period) rather than at the end of the quotation?
The formal introduction
Next we have a more stately way to introduce quotations. The formal introduction consists of an independent clause that typically makes a claim about the quotation that follows. The quotation then acts as proof or evidence of the signal phrase:
Godfrey Boggart, on the other hand, claims that opera is a dead art form: “While classic operas like Carmen or The Magic Flute are still being performed, most new operas receive little public attention and are in any case overshadowed by musicals” (49).
Note that the formal introduction does not need to have a verb of expression (writes, believes, argues, etc.). It just needs to be a complete sentence that allows us to make sense of the quotation.
In addition, just as with the short expression, the quotation is usually a complete sentence too. The one exception is if the quotation is an appositive phrase:
To describe the reasoning of toddlers, child psychologist Martin Frost coined a humorous portmanteau word: “toddlerlogical” (205).
If you find this an awkward construction, then just use the next method of integrating quotations: the run-in quotation.
Checklist to the formal introduction:
- Are both the quotation and your introduction complete sentences? (exception: the quotation is an appositive noun)
- Does your quotation start with a capital?
- Does your introductory phrase end with a colon?
The run-in quotation
Often you can combine your signal phrase with the quotation to form one complete sentence. In that case you don’t need any punctuation in between. You will have to be selective about which words you quote, as the transition needs to be seamless.
The transept “first became popular in Romanesque architecture, and it gave the basilica the appearance of a Latin cross” (Chevet 5).
Buchanan contends that “despite being the longest ice age, the Huronian era remains understudied” (3).
Notice that the signal phrase may include the author and a verb of expression, but neither is essential. The key is that the signal phrase and the quotation need to be combined to form a complete sentence.
So there you have it: if you pick one of the three signal phrases you should have no trouble introducing your quotations.
Checklist for the run-in quotation:
- Do your words combine with the quotation to form a complete sentence?
- Have you left out all punctuation before the quotation?
Occasionally you may come across a quotation that has no signal phrase. It’s just sitting there, all by itself in the middle of a paragraph. Kind of sad really, as the reader may have no idea what to make of it. Our advice is to play it safe and always provide a signal phrase.
A more acceptable variant is where the order is flipped around, and the signal phrase comes afterwards:
“The high costs of drugs are as much an effect of government intervention as a by-product of free market capitalism” (19), writes economist Hugo X. Santana.
In such cases the signal phrase is usually a short expression (see above).
You can even place the signal phrase in the middle if you like:
“The high costs of drugs,” writes economist Hugo X. Santana, “are as much an effect of government intervention as a by-product of free market capitalism” (19).
This way of integrating the quotation (placing the signal phrase later in the sentence) is of course much more common when the words are spoken rather than written down:
“I will shoot anyone who thinks gun control is unnecessary,” shouted Ella Pringle, at a rally in Utah.
Another acceptable variant is to introduce the quotation with a short prepositional phrase:
According to Virgil Cain, “Japanese gymnasts have managed to improve their elasticity by eating copious amounts of calimari.”
Just make sure your signal phrase and the quotation form a complete sentence.
While you’re free to experiment, in academic prose it’s best to place your signal phrase before the quotation. Otherwise your reader won’t immediately know what to make of the quotation and has to wait for an explanation.
Continuing After the quotation.
You might be asking yourself, do I need to end every sentence right after the quotation? Can I extend the sentence?
Yes you can.
The only caution is that continuing after the quotation is best done when your signal phrase runs right into the quotation (see above) and when the quotation is relatively short. Here is an example:
Odysseus is “the man of twists and turns” (1.1), an apt description of both his character and his wanderings coming home from Troy.
This is also a great way to string together a number of shorter quotations:
Matilda Anderson, in a recent address to the Anthropophagy Society, argued for a “redefinition of cannibalism” so that the restaurant industry “might have a new source of protein” (1, 5).
Note that with multiple quotations you are allowed to combine citations.
If you feel uncomfortable about extending your sentence after the quotation, then just use a period and start a new sentence. Don’t fudge it by adding semi-colons.
Checklist for continuing on after the quotation:
- Do your words combine with the quotation(s) to form a complete sentence?
- Have you left out all punctuation before the quotation?
- Have you put the parentheses immediately after each quotation?
- Have you put punctuation after the parentheses as appropriate?
Now that know how to introduce a quotation with a signal phrase, check out part 2 of our guide on quoting to learn about all those finicky exceptions! Don’t worry though–with a bit of practice you’ll master the rules soon enough.
If you would like to print a version of this page, please download our handy Guide to Integrating Quotations Using the MLA Style Rules.