Chapter 8: Direct Quotations: Presentation, Integration and Accuracy

 Not all doctoral candidates will make use of direct quotation in their theses, but many theses will include one or a few quoted passages, while others will feature a wide variety of quoted text and/or speech. The idea behind using the exact words of another person (or of other people in the case of sources with more than one author) is that those words contribute to your argument: they may support or contradict your methods, results or conclusions; they may be selected from a text or texts that your thesis analyses in detail; they may be exemplary, pithy or perfect expressions of ideas you introduce and discuss. Whatever your reasons for quoting the words of others in your own writing may be, you need to quote them accurately, remembering that ‘a direct quotation presents the exact words spoken on a particular occasion or written in a particular place’ (Ritter, 2005, Section 9.1). It is also essential that you observe with precision the appropriate scholarly techniques for quoting sources and that you make it absolutely clear to your readers how you are using direct quotations by introducing them effectively and discussing their significance in relation to your argument. In most cases, it is not enough simply to quote a passage and assume that your readers (and examiners) will know why you have quoted it: you need to let them know what you expect them to read or understand in the borrowed words. Any quotations you use should be integrated correctly into the syntax of your own prose as well, and all direct quotations must be acknowledged with precise references to the sources from which they have been taken. If your university or department has provided you with guidelines, they may offer instructions on the quotation practices appropriate for your thesis, in which case those instructions should be prioritised and used in conjunction with the more general advice provided in this chapter. The sections that follow focus on the scholarly practices and formats associated with quoting sources in acceptable ways in formal English prose, beginning with the most practical aspects of presenting quoted material – namely, laying it out on the page and providing the necessary references to the sources quoted.

8.1 Formatting and Acknowledging Quotations

There are two main ways to present quoted material in scholarly prose: it can be formatted as run-on or run-in quotations that are embedded in the main text, or it can be laid out as displayed or block quotations that are set off from the text. Short prose quotations, particularly those of less than a single sentence, are generally embedded, which means that they become a part of your own sentences and paragraphs. They therefore appear in the same font size as the surrounding text and are enclosed in quotation marks (The results of my investigation did not show ‘the negative effect of poor lighting’ (Bennett, 2007, p.197) revealed in an earlier study of the problem). Single quotation marks (‘ ’), as I use in this book, or double quotation marks (“ ”) can be used, but the same type must be used to mark all quotations in a thesis. Traditionally, single quotation marks tended to be used in British English and double quotation marks in American English, but this distinction is no longer as consistent or widespread as it once was. If the university or department guidelines you are using give any indication of the kind of quotation marks desired, you should follow that advice; otherwise, you may want to prefer one type of mark over the other based on whether British or American English is required or used, or you may want to follow your own preferences.

Whichever type of quotation mark is adopted for embedded quotations, the opposite type will be needed to enclose any quotations that appear within those quotations, as double quotation marks are used to enclose the word ‘novelty’ (a quote within a quote) in the following sentence: The results of my investigation did not show ‘the negative effect of poor lighting’ that surprised Bennett ‘due to its “novelty” in trials of this kind’ (2007, p.197). Were the main quotation enclosed in double quotation marks instead, the word ‘novelty’ would be marked by single quotation marks. In both cases the pattern of alternation continues if there is, by chance, a quote within a quote within a quote: single marks for the main quote with double marks enclosing the quote within it and a return to single marks to enclose the quote within that, or double marks for the main quote with single marks enclosing the quote within it and a return to double marks to enclose the quote within that. The two types could theoretically alternate indefinitely to provide many layers of quotation, but it is rare that more than three layers are used. Since errors often creep into the layered use of quotation marks, quotations featuring them require especially careful checking to ensure that each opening quotation mark has a matching and appropriately placed closing mark.

Longer prose quotations are usually displayed or set off as block quotations, but exactly what length quotations should be to justify such treatment varies considerably from style to style: quotations of forty words or more are displayed as block quotations in some styles, while in others a quotation should be longer (100 words or more in some cases) to receive such treatment. There is, then, no firm rule based on the length of the passage, though if university or department guidelines indicate that quotations over a particular word count should be displayed, do observe them. Alternate criteria can be used, however, to determine the format of quotations in the absence of such instructions. You might, for example, choose to display a short quotation that is central to your argument or to embed a long quotation in order to comment on parts of it in more detail; you might decide to display a series of quotations of varying length in order to highlight them and facilitate comparison, or to embed the same series of quotations to make the text more readable; or you might embed quotations that are central to the argument of your thesis, but display those cited as examples or illustrations. It is therefore essential to determine exactly what criteria you will use to make this distinction before formatting quotations and then to stick to those criteria as consistently as possible, making exceptions only when they serve your argument or your reasons for quoting in the first place.

When quotations are displayed, they are not enclosed in quotation marks, but they should start on a new line and they often feature a slightly smaller font size than that used in the main text of a document (in this book, for instance, I use a 12-point font for the main text, but an 11-point font for block quotations). The line spacing around and within a block quotation may also differ from that used in the main text of a thesis, and the same may be the case with indentation and justification, with all of these differences enabling the quotations to stand out effectively from your own prose. If your university or department provides specific instructions for laying out block quotations, they should be followed, but, in most cases, indentation (left or both left and right) and a smaller font size will suffice for marking displayed quotations. The following passage shows a simple but effective layout for prose quotations:

His manuscript project underwent various changes as it proceeded, however, and among these developments was the transformation of this meditation designed for readers into twin ‘meditational dramas’ that enact that reflective experience and could well have been performed, in the author’s priory perhaps, or the hall of a local gentleman, or the streets of a nearby Yorkshire community.

                                                                                                                   (Olson, 2012, p.338)

Since quotation marks are not required around the entire quotation, single quotation marks are used for quotations within the quotation, which results in a different alternation pattern than that for embedded quotations: single marks for quotations within the block quotation, double marks for quotations within those quotations and so on, with the reverse the case if double quotation marks are the predominant marks used in the thesis (double marks for quotations within block quotations, single marks for quotations within those quotations and so on).

When quoting more than a single line of poetry or any text (whether long or short) for which retaining the exact format of the original is important, such as lists, letters, interviews and passages from plays, and when quoting prose passages of more than a single paragraph, displaying the quotation is in almost all cases a much better choice than embedding it. Here, for instance, is a passage of the Middle English poem Piers Plowman (B-Text) formatted as a block quotation:

      For if heuene be on þis erþe, and ese to any soule,

      It is in cloistre or in scole, by manye skiles I fynde.

      For in cloistre comeþ no man to carpe ne to fiȝte

      But al is buxomnesse þere and bokes, to rede and to lerne.

          (Kane & Donaldson, 1975, X.305–308)

Notice that the indentation at the left is set so that the longest line is more or less centred on the page, although each line starts in the same position (not centre justified), and the passage is formatted to represent as faithfully as possible the layout of the poem in the source text. If the poem’s indentation varies in the source, this should be represented by extra indentation in the format of the block quotation. If any line is too long to fit on a single line in the block quotation and thus runs over onto the next line, the runover line should be indented a space or two beyond the usual indentation to distinguish it from new lines. If any quotations appear within the quoted lines, they should be enclosed in quotation marks exactly as they are in prose block quotations. Finally, if the quotation begins part way through a line, a space representing the length of the omitted material should be inserted before the quotation:

                             comeþ no man to carpe ne to fiȝte

      But al is buxomnesse þere and bokes, to rede and to lerne.

                                              (Kane & Donaldson, 1975, X.307–308)

The layout of a letter or list, the dialogue of a play including speaker tags and stage directions, the exchange during an interview and the breaks between paragraphs in a long prose quotation can be reproduced in similar ways in the formatting of a block quotation, as is the case in this example:

INTERVIEWER: Were you able to move easily when connected to the equipment?

RESPONDENT 1: Yes, most of the time, but a few of the exercises were more difficult.

INTERVIEWER: Do you remember which ones presented movement problems?

If two or more block quotations appear one after the other, make sure that the spacing between them leaves no ambiguity about where one quotation ends and the next begins. It should also be made clear whether the paragraph that precedes a block quotation continues after the quotation or not, so if a new paragraph begins immediately after displayed material, indentation and/or spacing should indicate that this is the case.

Although embedding such specifically formatted quotations should be avoided if at all possible, there are instances in which more than one line of poetry, more than one paragraph of prose or the parts of a letter, list or play will need to be presented as run-on quotations within your own sentences and paragraphs. In such cases, the original formatting should be represented as accurately as possible while maintaining effective sentence and paragraph structure and a tidy page layout. For lines of poetry, for instance, the font should be the same size as the main text, capitalisation should be retained and line breaks should be marked by either a forward slash or a vertical line (see Section 5.6.5) with a space on either side, as in the following example: ‘For if heuene be on þis erþe, and ese to any soule, | It is in cloistre or in scole, by manye skiles I fynde. | For in cloistre comeþ no man to carpe ne to fiȝte | But al is buxomnesse þere and bokes, to rede and to lerne’ (Kane & Donaldson, 1975, X.305–308). When a quotation of more than one paragraph is embedded, quotation marks should appear at the beginning of the quotation and at the beginning of each new paragraph, but only at the end of the final paragraph (or the end of the quotation if the final paragraph is not quoted in its entirety). The same approach should be used when quoting dialogue in which a single speaker’s words extend over more than one paragraph.

Representing lists, the dialogue in plays (along with stage directions) and the questions and answers in interviews as embedded quotations will be a little more challenging, and it is always best to format them as block quotations if possible, but short passages of this kind can be successful (if not ideal) when careful and creative formatting is used: ‘INTERVIEWER: Were you able to move easily when connected to the equipment? RESPONDENT 1: Yes, most of the time, but a few of the exercises were more difficult. INTERVIEWER: Do you remember which ones presented movement problems?’ I have not used quotation marks around the actual speech of the two parties in this example, which is an acceptable approach for such dialogue (when quoting a play as well) whether it is embedded or displayed, but the additional quotation marks can certainly be added around those bits of direct speech to avoid confusion when using an embedded format: ‘WILL: “Where did she go?” ROB, looking from side to side: “She was just here.” WILL, looking up and pointing: “She’s there.”’ Embedding quotations of this kind may be particularly necessary in footnotes and endnotes, because the font used in notes is usually smaller than that in the main text, which means that block quotations become smaller still, so even long quotations with complicated formatting are often embedded in notes.

Representing lists, the dialogue in plays (along with stage directions) and the questions and answers in interviews as embedded quotations will be a little more challenging, and it is always best to format them as block quotations if possible, but short passages of this kind can be successful (if not ideal) when careful and creative formatting is used: ‘INTERVIEWER: Were you able to move easily when connected to the equipment? RESPONDENT 1: Yes, most of the time, but a few of the exercises were more difficult. INTERVIEWER: Do you remember which ones presented movement problems?’ I have not used quotation marks around the actual speech of the two parties in this example, which is an acceptable approach for such dialogue (when quoting a play as well) whether it is embedded or displayed, but the additional quotation marks can certainly be added around those bits of direct speech to avoid confusion when using an embedded format: ‘WILL: “Where did she go?” ROB, looking from side to side: “She was just here.” WILL, looking up and pointing: “She’s there.”’ Embedding quotations of this kind may be particularly necessary in footnotes and endnotes, because the font used in notes is usually smaller than that in the main text, which means that block quotations become smaller still, so even long quotations with complicated formatting are often embedded in notes.

When the quotation is displayed, the same source information is required, but the parenthetical reference is positioned a little differently: after the closing punctuation of a block quotation, for instance, and usually oriented to the right on the line directly below the quotation, as it appears in the block quotations from Olson and Piers Plowman that I provided above. If there is room for the reference on the final line of the quotation, that is usually an acceptable position as well, and certainly it is on that line immediately after the closing punctuation of the block quotation that a note number or numerical reference would appear instead if that is the system you are using:

      For in cloistre comeþ no man to carpe ne to fiȝte

                                But al is buxomnesse þere and bokes, to rede and to lerne.1

As with embedded quotations, an explanation of your referencing practices can be offered in the first relevant note to facilitate shorter references and avoid numerous notes if the same text is quoted frequently, and, as a general rule, regardless of which quotation format or system of referencing you use, subsequent references to the same text can be shortened to provide only the information absolutely necessary for the reader to locate the quotation accurately. If, for example, you are discussing Langland for several paragraphs in which you quote repeatedly from his poem, it is not necessary to identify the author, poem, editors and publication date with each quotation unless it is unclear which text is being cited; only if a different author or text, or perhaps a different edition or version of the poem is quoted in the midst of the discussion would a full reference be required to reorient the reader. Shortening references to a bare minimum is noted as desirable in most style guides, but do be sure that you provide enough information in each instance for your readers to identify and locate your quotations, remembering that offering too much information is preferable to offering too little.

Why PhD Success?

To Graduate Successfully

This article is part of a book called "PhD Success" which focuses on the writing process of a phd thesis, with its aim being to provide sound practices and principles for reporting and formatting in text the methods, results and discussion of even the most innovative and unique research in ways that are clear, correct, professional and persuasive.

The assumption of the book is that the doctoral candidate reading it is both eager to write and more than capable of doing so, but nonetheless requires information and guidance on exactly what he or she should be writing and how best to approach the task. The basic components of a doctoral thesis are outlined and described, as are the elements of complete and accurate scholarly references, and detailed descriptions of writing practices are clarified through the use of numerous examples.

The basic components of a doctoral thesis are outlined and described, as are the elements of complete and accurate scholarly references, and detailed descriptions of writing practices are clarified through the use of numerous examples. PhD Success provides guidance for students familiar with English and the procedures of English universities, but it also acknowledges that many theses in the English language are now written by candidates whose first language is not English, so it carefully explains the scholarly styles, conventions and standards expected of a successful doctoral thesis in the English language.

Individual chapters of this book address reflective and critical writing early in the thesis process; working successfully with thesis supervisors and benefiting from commentary and criticism; drafting and revising effective thesis chapters and developing an academic or scientific argument; writing and formatting a thesis in clear and correct scholarly English; citing, quoting and documenting sources thoroughly and accurately; and preparing for and excelling in thesis meetings and examinations. 

Completing a doctoral thesis successfully requires long and penetrating thought, intellectual rigour and creativity, original research and sound methods (whether established or innovative), precision in recording detail and a wide-ranging thoroughness, as much perseverance and mental toughness as insight and brilliance, and, no matter how many helpful writing guides are consulted, a great deal of hard work over a significant period of time. Writing a thesis can be an enjoyable as well as a challenging experience, however, and even if it is not always so, the personal and professional rewards of achieving such an enormous goal are considerable, as all doctoral candidates no doubt realise, and will last a great deal longer than any problems that may be encountered during the process.

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