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10. a. (5) Using Quotations in Your Paper

Your paper should be written primarily in your own words, not those of other persons, whether their words be found in primary sources or secondary sources. There are, however, reasons for quoting and rules and conventions for doing so.

Quoting Primary Sources

Primary sources are first-hand materials produced by persons who participated in or directly observed the historical events being described.

  1. Quote a primary source if it contains: (a) unusually significant statements made by persons important to your narrative or argument; (b) dramatic, quaint, or humorous language that you believe will get the reader's attention or otherwise make your prose more interesting.

  2. Do not quote a primary source for ordinary factual information. Instead, paraphrase it. (Be sure to cite the source in a footnote.)

Quoting Secondary Sources

Secondary sources are historical materials written by historians or biographers after the fact. Such persons were not present when the events or movements were taking place.

  1. Almost never quote secondary sources. Use the facts or ideas you find in secondary sources but paraphrase (and often condense) the material (of course, citing the source in a footnote).

  2. When to quote from secondary sources: It is acceptable to quote a secondary source if the writer is a recognized authority about a person, event, or movement about which you are writing and if the writer is making a significant judgment, interpretation, or conclusion about some aspect of your topic. Even in these instances, the quotations should be fairly brief.

Including the Name of the Source of Your Quotation in the Text

Whenever you quote a primary or secondary source, always include the name of the author of the quotation in the text itself (as well as in the footnote citation) if the person's name is known. Unless otherwise clear, also provide further identification of the person. Never force the reader to go to the footnote citation to identify the author of a quotation.
Samuel Sutton, an early Medina settler, wrote; "In those days it did not take much to feed our families."
The foremost historian of these men, Walter Prescott Webb, has written,"To speak of courage among Texas Rangers is almost a superfluity."

Using Block Quotations

  1. One should block quotations that are longer than about four lines.

  2. Use block quotations sparingly. Unless the material quoted is intrinsically very interesting, this practice can easily bore the reader and slow down the flow of the prose. Also, excessive use suggests that you are primarily relying on other people's words to fill out your paper rather than using your own.

  3. Double-space block quotations and indent them a few spaces from the normal left-hand margin, but do not indent from the normal right-hand margin.

  4. Punctuation before a block quotation: Place a colon at the end of the sentence that introduces the block quotation.

  5. Do not enclose block quotations with quotation marks.

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