To quote is to reproduce what someone else has previously expressed. It is important to pay attention to quotation rules, such as the necessity to give the exact wording of the source that is being quoted and to identify the source.

As will be discussed here, quotations must also be contextualised, properly introduced and identified.

Below, information is given about the following aspects of quoting:

Definition: Quote, Quotation (click to expand/contract)

Oxford English Dictionary

quote, verb. To reproduce or repeat a passage from (a book, author, etc.); to repeat a statement by (a person); to give (a specified person, body, etc.) as the source of a statement.

quotation, noun. A passage quoted from a book, speech, or other source

Note that the slightly informal noun 'quote' is often used for 'quotation'.

When to quote

The prevalence of quotations differs between disciplines, and writers need to comply with the conventions of their specific field.

When used, quotations should be smoothly integrated into the text. Writers need to make sure that they do not quote too much and too often. A text with an excessive number of quotations is not only difficult to read; in most cases it also comes across as lacking in originality.

Quotations are commonly used to clarify some aspect that is being discussed or to substantiate a claim that is made in the text:

To clarify or define

A quotation can be used to define, describe or explain something that is being discussed:


Meerkats, the "foot-tall, slender-tailed, pointy-nosed" little animals that are also called suricates, belong to the mongoose family (Usborne 2009, para. 1).

Here, the quotation was chosen because it so succinctly describes the animal referred to. The quotation thus functions as a definition of the animal that is being introduced.

To substantiate a claim

A quotation may also be used to support the claim that is being made:


Meerkats have become tremendously popular; The Independent claims that "Britain has gone mad for these upstanding citizens of the Kalahari desert" (Usborne, 2009, para. 2).

To back up a statement (that the popularity of meerkats has increased), a quote from a well-known newspaper is provided. The reputable source adds to the trustworthiness of the statement, which itself is quite striking, thus adding to the effect; Britain is said to have "gone mad" and the animals themselves are referred to as "upstanding citizens of the Kalahari desert".

Source: Usborne, S. (2009, October 15). Kool for kats: How meerkats conquered the world. The Independent. Retrieved from

How to quote

Since quotations by definition are exact renderings of what someone else has written, said or otherwise expressed, they must be correctly reproduced. Furthermore, they must be contextualised, properly introduced and identified.

Quotations must be contextualised

Writers must make sure to quote in a way that does not misrepresent the quoted text. To contextualise a quotation means to frame it in a way that presents the correct situation and gives the necessary information for the reader to understand the quoted piece. Since the reader cannot be expected to know the exact context of the quotation, the writer must provide the reader with this information in order to avoid misrepresentation and misunderstanding.

For further reading: Contextualising quotations (click to expand/contract)

Below is a link to an article from the Journal of Communication on the importance of contextualizing quotations. One example that is brought up is the so-called  "yew tree controversy," in which former US Vice President Al Gore was quoted out-of-context by a conservative columnist, as having argued than the preservation of trees was more important than to save human lives.

The "yew tree controversy" example is found on pages 332-334 of the article, starting with "Contextomy is also a common spin tactic among unscrupulous political journalists..." at the bottom of page 332.

McGlone, M. S. (2005) Quoted out of context: Contextomy and its consequences. Journal of Communication, 55, 330-346. Retrieved from Wiley. [Access article via LibHub]

Quotations must be properly introduced

In order to be fully understood, quotations must be introduced. As stated above, the function of quotations is often to exemplify or clarify something, and sometimes writers choose to show the exact wording of a source for some other reason. In any case, the function of a quotation should be that of illustrating the writer's argument; a quotation must never be the argument itself. Therefore, quotations must be introduced, and, preferably, also commented on.

Quotations must never stand on their own in between the writer's sentences, but should be merged into the writer's sentence in an appropriate manner, for instance by using reporting verbs/phrases. There are various ways of doing this, and practices vary between disciplines and reference styles.

Read more about this:

Quotations must be identified

When a quotation is included in a written text, the source must be given. The correct procedure for this depends on the reference style used. Read more in the AWELU section on reference styles:

The use of quotation marks

The punctuation marks used to signal quotations are called inverted commas or quotation marks. Depending on the font used, quotation marks are either vertical, as the ones used on this website, or typographical (also known as curly quotation marks).

A Swedish perspective: Quotation marks (click to expand/contract)

Note that in English writing, the typographical quotation marks look different from Swedish quotation marks. If set to English language settings, MS Word will automatically format quotation marks correctly:

‘quotation’   “quotation”

Single or double quotation marks?

To distinguish between quotations and quotations-within-quotations, either double quotation marks are used for the quotation and single for the quotation-within-quotation, or vice versa.

British publishers tend to use single quotation marks for quotations, whereas North American publishers usually favour double quotation marks. As mentioned previously, practices vary, however; therefore, anyone writing for publication needs to check the preference of the publisher. In either case, consistency within the text is vital.

Short quotation or long quotation?

When pieces of text are being quoted, this is indicated in different ways, depending on the length of the quoted passage. Short quotations are fully integrated in the text, whereas long quotations are set off from the running text in block quotations.

Block quotations do not have quotation marks; by setting the quotation off from the text the writer indicates that the piece of text is a quotation. The left margin of the block quotation is indented (sometimes the right margin, too), which means that it is not aligned with the rest of the text. Note that if there is a quotation within the block quotation, that quotation-within-the-quotation will keep its quotation marks. 

What is defined as a 'long quotation' differs between references styles; for instance, APA draws the limit at 40 words.

Example: Short quotation / long quotation (click to expand/contract)

The quotations used for our examples below come from Barack Obama's inaugural speech, as transcribed in The New York Times.

Short quotations are given within inverted commas in the running text, as in the following sentence:


US President Barack Obama's inaugural speech opened in the following way: "My fellow citizens: I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors" (The New York Times Jan 20, 2009).

Long quotations are often set off from the running text into separate blocks of text, so-called block quotations:


In his inaugural speech, US President Barack Obama referred to some of the challenges he was facing:

That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age. (The New York Times Jan 20, 2009).

How to edit quotations

Sometimes, writers wish to amend their quotation. That is possible, provided that the following is taken into consideration. Note, too, that the intention of the quotation may not be misrepresented or changed in any way.

The use of ellipsis

If it is not possible to fit the quoted passage into the sentence structure of the text you are writing, or if the quoted passage is unnecessarily long, it is possible to make changes through the use of square brackets. When something from the original passage is removed, we sometimes talk about ellipsis.

Definition: Ellipsis (click to expand/contract)

Oxford English Dictionary

ellipsis, noun. The omission of one or more words in a sentence, which would be needed to complete the grammatical construction or fully to express the sense; concr. an instance of such omission.

Note the plural form of ellipsis: ellipses

Three dots ... or square brackets and three dots [...] are used to show that words have been excluded, and square brackets with words inserted are used to show what words have been inserted or changed.

No changes must be made to an original text without this being indicated, and such square brackets should only be used to clarify something in the quotation, for grammatical reasons, or to shorten a text. No changes must be made that alter the ideas or the results that are expressed in the original text.

As seen in the examples below, square brackets are used in different situations to edit quotations:

Example: Square brackets used to clarify/add information (click to expand/contract)

Square brackets can be used for clarity, to add information that the writer considers to be necessary for the understanding of the quotation.

The following example comes from an article in Victorian Literature and Culture. For reasons of clarity, the writer has added a numeral to the name of the king who is mentioned in the piece of text that she is quoting:


Cast off by her husband, the Prince Regent, and sent into exile in 1814, Queen Caroline had returned to England in June 1820 to "demand her rights as Queen and to contest George [IV]'s demands for divorce, and accusations of adultery" (Wood 149).  

(Ledger, 2004, p. 578)

Example: Ellipsis used to abbreviate a long quotation (click to expand/contract)

If the quoted text is too long, it is possible to shorten it with the help of an ellipsis. The writer must indicate this with square brackets where a chunk of text has been removed.

In the example below, from the British Journal of Sociology of Education, a Swedish governmental report is being quoted. The writer first introduces the quotation and then follows up with a comment. The ellipsis in the quotation was probably inserted in order to cut down on the length of the quotation.


Against this background, the report sees a number of crucial consequences for the way 'immigrant parents' bring up their children.

Swedish norms and values of raising children often invoke fear. […] Uncertainty regarding what the consequences might be if they give in to their children's demands leads many parents to strengthen and exaggerate the ideals of child-rearing that prevail in their home country. (SOU 1997b, 194ff)

Throughout, the report makes a categorical distinction between 'Swedes' and 'immigrants', 'Swedish' and 'un-Swedish', as if these categories were immutable, natural and self-evident.

(Dahlstedt, 2009, p. 199)

Example: Square brackets used to make the quotation fit into the running text (click to expand/contract)

Square brackets containing words or morphemes can be used if the grammatical structure of the quotation does not fit into the running text.

The following example has been taken from an article from Hispania. The article deals with a novel called La sombra by the Spanish writer Benito Pérez Galdós. In the extract, the article writer has used square brackets to accommodate the verb tense of the quotation:


La sombra evokes the classical British Gothic novel, which "concern[s] itself with psychological problems, used to dramatize uncertainty and conflicts of the individual subject in relation to a difficult social situation" (Jackson 97).  

(López, 1998, p. 510)

Comment: López here quotes a critic called Jackson. In original, Jackson's statement about the genre of the Gothic novel looks like this:

It is progressively turned inwards to concern itself with psychological problems, used to dramatize uncertainty and conflicts of the individual subject in relation to a difficult social situation. (Jackson, 1981, p. 97).

When quoting parts of this sentence, López thus had to change the verb form from 'concern' to 'concerns' in order to make the quotation fit with her text.

The use of emphasis

If the writer wishes to add emphasis to one or more words in the quotation, these words can be italicised. The reference then has to be accompanied by a comment indicating this change.

Example: The use of emphasis in quotations (click to expand/contract)

Note that different reference styles have different ways of indicating that an emphasis has been added. The example below is written in APA Style. Other styles have slightly different ways of indicating added emphasis; in MLA, for instance, the parenthetical reference would be the place to indicate that emphasis has been added.

In Usborne's article on meerkats, these animals are described as almost-human: "They are the little guys with big hearts [italics added] whose struggle for survival and fierce sense of family loyalty not only fascinates scientists and seduces film-makers, but also offers a model of duty and fortitude for us all" (2009, para. 2).

The use of [sic]

If there is a spelling mistake or any other error in the text that is quoted, the writer can point this out by adding the word [sic] after the inaccurate word or phrase. By doing this, he or she shows that the mistake is in the original text.

The Latin word 'sic,' which means 'thus,' is placed after the word to which the writer wishes to draw the reader's attention. There is some variation between reference styles – some use italics and square brackets, whereas other styles prefer non-italics and parenthesis.

A note of caution is in place here; it is not always necessary to reproduce the mistake of others. As the Oxford Style Manual (2003) argues,

Often it is unfair and unnecessary to [...] draw attention to what may be no more than dittography or printer's error: unless the mistake has textual significance, transmitting the content of the quoted matter is usually more important than reproducing its original form, warts and all.

(Ritter, p. 192-193)

Note: "Dittography" means "Double writing; the unintentional repetition of a letter or word, or series of letters or words, by a copyist" (Oxford English Dictionary).

Example: [sic] to mark mistake in quoted text (click to expand/contract)

Mistake in original text

The example below comes from a book review. In order to illustrate what the book is about, the reviewer quotes from the book.

Since there is an error ("economic reforms takes" instead of "economic reforms take") in the passage that is being quoted, the reviewer has added [sic] after the error in the quotation. This signals that the error exists in the original text, and that the reviewer is aware of it.

In this case, the mistake can be explained by poor proofreading; the reviewer actually states that "it is hard to find flaws (other than editorial) in this carefully crafted and well-argued book" (Falleti, 2006, p. 414).


In this book, Erik Wibbels explores the "federal collective action problem" (pp. 47, 62). Because in federal countries national and regional leaders answer to different constituencies, their electoral interests and preferences toward socially costly reforms might conflict. Market economic reforms constitute one type of such measures. As Wibbels argues, in crisis-ridden federations, "economic reforms takes [sic] on the quality of a public good requiring the individual regions to cooperate, whereas it is more rational for each career-oriented politician to avoid the costs associated with austerity" (p. 27).

(Falleti, 2006, p. 414)

Irregular spelling

Sometimes, writers wish to stress that the spelling used in old documents has not been wrongly reproduced.

The quotation below is the opening sentence of an article from Health Education Research on early-seventeenth-century views on the use of tobacco. The writer wants to make clear that the book title does indeed look like this, although the spelling would be different today.


Late in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, a treatise against tobacco, entitled Work for Chimny-Sweepers or A Warning for Tabacconists [sic], was published in London (Philaretes, 1602).

(Charlton, 2005, p. 101)

Comment: In essays or articles focusing on old texts, or text using unconventional spelling, [sic] is usually not inserted, as the reader can be assumed to be familiar with spelling conventions of the era or culture.

Other uses of quotation marks in academic writing

Quotation marks can be used to set off words from the text that the writer wishes to highlight:


'Wellies' is the short form for wellington boots, named after Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington.

In some reference styles, quotations marks are used to indicate titles of articles, poems, songs, and other forms of texts that form part of larger units.