How to quote in an essay – the best way to do it

Writing an essay is an important skill that will help you throughout your life. Knowing the best way to write an essay can ensure that you have the confidence and skill to be able to tackle topics throughout your career with a great deal of skill and engagement with the subject you are dealing with. As such, it is vital that you understand how to properly use quotes in your essays as without them your essays would be lacking the evidence you need to support them. This is not only important for your education but also for your future career; if you don’t know how to properly quote facts and figures in your future work you may struggle to reach your full potential in the competitive and challenging world of work. As such, it is vitally important that you learn the skills you need for quotations and can incorporate them into any work you have to do. You may be worried that you don’t know exactly how to do this and be concerned that you won’t be able to do it for any essay that you have planned. Don’t worry, however – this article will demonstrate exactly how to use a quote in an essay.


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Quotations are used in a variety of different essays and mean different things in the way that they are used. One of the most popular forms of analysis in History Essays is to use a quote from a particular figure from the period or a particular account of the period and to comment on it and assess whether it can be judged to be an accurate depiction of the events that the essay is about. You can discuss, if it is not viewed to be accurate, what possible biases or inferences that, therefore, may lead the reader to take regarding the author. You, of course, may not be writing an essay about History; however, it is still important to understand the various ways that quotes are used in different types of essays and to then see how they may apply to your own subject.

In History Essays, as with lots of essays, quotations are usually imbedded into the text with some indication in the surrounding text as to their origin and to how they are relevant to the question that you have been set. Therefore, when using a quotation in a History essay and, indeed, in many other types of essays, it is important to be clear that most of the text will not be the quotation but rather an explanation as to its origin and an examination as to its meaning. Your point should focus on the quotation in relation to the question, but the quotation should not take up too much room. Some people believe that the use of long stretches of quotations is good as it means that you will have more text to analyse. This is an erroneous assumption; rather than having more text to analyse you will have less space to properly analyse your text to the fullest degree and this means your essay will come across as if it doesn’t have the intellectual rigour that is necessary to demonstrate that you can respond to the question you have been set but also that you cannot analyse the text in a way that supports your argument. Let’s look at an example of a quotation in a History essay and examine what it is doing:

“At the end of his inauguration speech in January 1961, President John F Kennedy spoke the immortal words “Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country.” Kennedy’s inference was simple; rather than taking for granted the economic prosperity of the late 50s/ early 60s America, a boom that was much more fragile than most Americans thought, that the citizens of his country should step up to the plate and help improve their country. This did not simply mean improve it economically – it meant to embrace the founding principles of America and to help ensure that it was seen as a shining beacon to all other nations of democracy in action rather than democracy inactive.”

This particular use of a quotation is short and yet it helps to build on the argument of the author and also to help explain the context in which the quotation is made. It, therefore perfectly demonstrates how to use a quotation in a History Essay. Rather than using a long section of the speech, it chooses a well known and particularly important section to highlight and support the main thrust of the writer’s argument. This can, therefore, be seen as a golden example of how to quote in an essay effectively and straightforwardly. Rather than meandering around the point of the argument, it goes straight into the heart of it and effectively and succinctly uses the quotation to support the point and to elaborate on it, giving further details to the reader that provide context and factual support to the rest of the point and the essay.

As I said earlier, quotations in History Essays are usually imbedded into the text so that they help with the flow of the argument and ensure that the essays flow with ease. This is a convention which is usually applied to most other essays too. However, there are certain exceptions to this rule and Literature Essays can sometimes be one of them. Whilst a quotation in a Literature Essay is usually imbedded in the text as with a History Essay, it can sometimes be necessary to quote a larger section of the text in order to ensure that the argument flows better. Here is an example of how this works in practise:

“The play Triumph and Agnes is one of Motloff’s lesser know works. Composed in 1785 during an opium induced haze, it tells the story of two lovers – Triumph, a mystical stag that is transformed into a human by the witch Cortisol, and a publican’s wife named Agnes. Unlike his later works such as Count Cropular and The Dance of The Bell, Triumph and Agnes is a comedy which relies heavily on visual gags rather than literary witticisms:

“TRIUMPH: Neigh, what can though mean Agnes!

AGNES: By my trout, I know that thee does mean to do me a mischief sire!

TRIUMPH: (throwing a cape over his face, in the manner of a count) Ah, but sweet Agnes, how can I mean thee harm if you cannot see me!”

In this passage, Motloff uses the comedic device of sight to engage the audience and elicit laughter from them. The stage direction “throwing a cape over his face, in the manner of a count” reveals that Motloff wished the audience to associate Triumph’s actions with those of a roguish and debauched member of the aristocracy; this is perhaps a commentary on Motloff’s antipathy for the aristocracy because of their perceived allegiance to Roman Catholicism, which is reflected on later in the play when Triumph reverts to be a horse and urinates on an archdeacon. “

As can be seen in this extract, the author uses both the technique of imbedding the quotation in the text and referring to it in the rest of the paragraph but also uses a technique by which they introduce the topic of discussion and then insert a paragraph of text. This can be particularly useful in a literary essay, particularly when discussing a play; rather than being forced to only select one line from a text this gives the writer more flexibility to engage with the text and demonstrate their understanding of what it means. However, as you can see from the example that has been used, it is better to ensure that the section that you use isn’t too lengthy as, with any other use of quotations in an essay, it would mean that you have less time and room to comment on the quotations properly.

It is useful to now consider how to use quotations in other types of essays. This will be broadly like how they are used in History Essays, but it is still important to consider how they may be used:

  • Science Essay. When writing a Science Essay, it is important that your use of quotations is a mixture of either that used in History Essays, or that demonstrated in a Literature Essay, depending on the amount of scientific data.
  • Geography Essay. It is vital here to ensure that you know how to quote maps and other natural features.
  • Photography Essay. Like Geography, when quoting in these sorts of essays, it is wise to understand how to best use images.

Hopefully, this article will have helped to explain how to quote in an essay and you will feel confident to do so. However, if this isn’t the case then perhaps we can help?

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