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Step 9: Quotes and Citations

Essay quotes and citations are a major part of your body paragraphs and should be integrated to support your argument. If your essay doesn't have any of these then you are basically communicating that you are an expert in the field and have not consulted any other sources. Alternatively, if you are just using your evidence without citations then you are taking another author's words and attributing credit to yourself. This is a major essay penalty and could land you a big F for plagiarism. It's best to use quotes and in-text citations from your research portion to strengthen your argument. If you did the research portion correctly, then you should have a good number of memorable quotes and facts that you can use. If you need any help with writing paper from a professional American writer, Ultius is here to make sure the essay writing process is made simple and easy.

Essay Quotes and Citations

In order to produce high quality essays, one must understand the rules and regulations, guidelines and concepts, and practical methods which must be followed. The best way to improve your writing is through extensive practice, but even inexperienced writers can still craft an amazing paper by breaking this seemingly insurmountable challenge into simple steps. When an assignment seems overwhelming, procrastination may seem like the only option. 

Tip: Keeping a log, spreadsheet, or document with relevant quotes that you may want to use in your paper is a great tool. Not only will you have access to quotes and citations without having to dig through books and documents, but a central log of all your quotes will make sure that you do not miss any important citations.


However, an important part of essay writing is time management, which means you should allocate the time required to properly ascertain and consider the implications of a specific topic, find useful resources, form questions and ideas about your topic which lead to the conception of a thesis, and then digest all of this information in order to supply informed conclusions which reflect the facts as well as your own opinions. The research process often directs you toward the current questions and points of contention within your topic, and reading useful resources can actually help you choose a thesis, or refine your thesis as you proceed. 

Using Quotes to Help Construct an Argument

Developing a rock-solid thesis requires time and effort, but there is a method to the madness of writing an effective essay. The most important part of any argument is the bedrock of solid research upon which the structure of your findings can be built: the facts and opinions of previous authors should form the shoulders for your argument to stand on. In order to demonstrate you have done the research required to gain an understanding of a specific topic, field, or argument, you must read, understand, and then properly cite and reference each source you consult. Although this task may seem tedious and time consuming, it is highly important to differentiate between the thoughts of the expert thinkers upon which your argument is built and your own words and opinions.

Example of plagiarism 

Original text example: The Eastern Roman Empire launched a series of military campaigns against a neo-Persian Empire in the 7th century; not only did these wars drain the imperial treasury, but they also led to domestic disturbances that weakened the Empire from within.


Plagiarism: In the 7th century, the Eastern Roman Empire embarked on a series of military operations against the Persians in the East. These wars exhausted the Imperial treasury and weakened the internal unity of the Empire.

That way, your teacher can see that you have absorbed the relevant facts and figures and processed them into a cohesive paper which supports your thesis and directly addresses your topic. Instead of merely asserting that something is true, a writer gains credibility by heavily referencing other thinkers who are in agreement. In order to avoid the serious issue of plagiarism, which is using someone else’s thoughts, words and work as your own, remember to cite references every single time another person’s material is used, even if it is not directly quoted, and always make sure to include every author and work on the reference page which goes at the end of your paper. Failing to follow these simple requirements can result in an F grade on your paper, and possible failure of the class, or even expulsion from your institution of learning, depending on the severity of the case. Of course, plagiarism is completely unnecessary and counter-productive, because it is actually easier to integrate other author’s works into your own text rather than resorting to careless copying and pasting. 

Quotes and Paraphrases

There are two main ways of using someone else’s information in the body of your essay: quotes and paraphrasing. Direct quotes are pieces of information which are taken verbatim, or word for word, from another source, and should be used liberally throughout your essay to show that you have read the reference materials and understand each author’s key points, facts, and opinions. A phrase is a unit of thought or meaning which forms a whole or partial sentence. Paraphrasing, on the other hand, is your own summary of another writer’s words and ideas which can even incorporate your angle and analysis by choosing specific words which differ slightly from the original text. High-level writing demands the use of well-cited paraphrasing, as it best demonstrates you have fully digested and reprocessed the research texts. 

There are certain times when a quote is more appropriate than paraphrasing, such as when an author gives a uniquely phrased personal opinion, or a specific series of numbers or figures such as “seventy-seven percent of secondary school students say that ‘S’ is their favorite semantic symbol” (Author, Year, p. #).

Tip: Quoting direct statistics, numbers, and personal opinions is an effective use of a citation. Also, it is good to stay away from attempting to paraphrase statistics, numbers, and other people's opinions whenever possible. 


A quote within a quote should utilize single quotes, as shown in the previous example. Brackets can also be used to change the tense, exchange a pronoun for the noun it refers to, or in order to pluralize a word so that the quote fits better into your sentence without altering the meaning. For example, if the original text reads “Shakespeare is a great author; he wrote a number of highly influential plays,” you could simply quote “[Shakespeare] wrote a number of highly influential plays” (Author, Year, p.#). Even though these are only examples, it is always important to include a citation for any direct quotes. Laziness or confusion when it comes to citations is inexcusable: forgetting one citation can result in accusations of plagiarism, even if it is merely an issue of oversight or misunderstanding the style guide.

Tip: Use only the most relevant parts of the source you are quoting. Do not include filler text or additional content that is not directly related to your paper.


Professors do not like to see quotes ‘dropped’ into a paper, either at the start of a sentence or in the form of long block quotes which could easily be summarized through either selective quoting or paraphrasing. “For example, this is the wrong way to use a quote.” As you can see, the previous quote has been ‘dropped’ into the beginning of a sentence and has no citation or reference, these are both bad practices and the latter is also considered plagiarism.

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Readers prefer to see a ‘mixed quote’ which has been “massaged and manipulated” into the sentence, thus elegantly and seemingly effortlessly supporting your argument, rather than awkwardly shoehorning in another’s words (Author, Year, p. #). This is the most proper way to use quotations: see how the previous quote was used alongside paraphrasing, and also cited in APA format at the end of the sentence in parentheses, but before the period?  

Signal Words and Phrases

Sometimes, a quote just begs to be dropped in at the beginning of a sentence and in such cases, the use of signal words and phrases which state the author and indicate a transition into a quote can be highly effective in order to gently massage the quote into your sentence. Powerful signal words include ‘argues’, ‘believes’, ’cautions’, ‘contends’, ‘examines’, ’explains’, ‘explores’, ’expounds’, ‘describes’, ’demonstrates’ or ’delineates’, among others. Signal words may sometimes be further assisted by a helping word such as ‘that’, ‘how’ or ‘why’. These are generally used by writing Author (Year) ‘signal word’ “quote,” as in Ultius (2014) contends that “signal words may sometimes be further assisted by a helping word.” If you include the author and year within the sentence, it is unnecessary to include an in-text citation at the end of the sentence. Always follow your chosen or assigned style guide in order to execute this technique flawlessly.

Common Signal Words and Phrases

  • Argues
  • Believes
  • Cautions
  • Contends
  • Examines
  • Explains
  • Explores
  • Expounds
  • Describes
  • Demonstrates
  • Delineates
  • Discusses

Notice that each of the aforementioned signal words carries its own connotation, or feeling, which can influence your reader and even subtly inform them of your view of the author’s ideas. Neutral signal words like ‘explores’ or ‘examines’ simply state the author wrote about a topic, without implying a negative or positive connotation. Words like ‘argues’, ‘contends’, or ‘believes’ suggest that the following quote is the author’s central argument, and have a generally positive connotation. On the other hand, a word like ‘cautions’ implies that the author is exposing something negative or alarming in the quote used. 

Another form of signal phrase is the ‘according to’ format, which can also take the form ‘in the words of’, ‘as summarized by Author,’ or ‘in light of Author’s statement,’ among other choices. Ellipses ‘…’ are used to omit or leave out words from a quote which are in the way, without dramatically altering the meaning of the quote. The following sentence is an example of these two techniques. According to Ultius (2014) a “signal phrase…can also take the form” of an introductory statement. Remember to use in-text citations and mixed quotes to demonstrate a command of the material. These rules should be empowering and constructive, rather than restrictive. Do not feel confined to use a certain signal word or phrase to introduce a quote if it feels, reads, or sounds awkward. As long as your quotes and paraphrases are properly referenced, use the words which are comfortable and accurate for your voice and your individual argument.

Citing and Referencing According to Style Guides

The style guide used for your paper will tell you how to cite these quotes and paraphrased materials in the proper manner. There are three common style guides which most classes utilize to help standardize the process of referencing. Remember, these guides are not unnecessarily restrictive, rather they are highly specific in order to provide a common structure through which your ideas can be clearly expressed. The Modern Language Association’s (MLA) format is generally used for humanities, liberal arts, and literature classes, the American Psychological Association’s (APA) format is commonly used in psychology, science, and nursing and Chicago Manual Style (CMS) is often favored by historians and economists, among others. Turabian is a lesser-known variant of the Chicago Manual Style. 

Most Common Citation Styles

  • MLA
  • APA
  • Chicago
  • Used for humanities, liberal arts, and literature work
  • Used for psychology, science, and nursing work.
  • Used for historical, economic, and related work.

There are also more esoteric or uncommon style guides which some professors may ask you to follow, such as the Harvard style guide, the American Medical Association’s (AMA) style guide, or the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) style guide, each of which have their own specific methods of citing and referencing the texts and works you will inevitably use within your paper. Though every reference at the end of your paper must include the name of the author, title, year, and publisher, each style guide has good reasons for the specific way this information will be presented and mandates that you follow specific rules and regulations to achieve the goal of accountability to your sources. 

Because it is a literary style, MLA is concerned with authorship as well as the title and page number(s) of the text which is referenced (Author #). APA format is concerned with being up-to date and relevant, thus it requires placing emphasis on the author and year of the work which is being cited, and if direct quotes are used, the page or paragraph (Author, Year). Chicago Manual Style (CMS) format is concerned with both of these aspects, as well as making sure that citations are unobtrusive to the body of the text, which is why the default citation format for Chicago Manual Style papers is the footnote. 


No matter the style guide, the type of citation or reference, or the topic and thesis of your paper, writing a quality assignment is only a matter of following the steps to their logical conclusions. To make a strong argument which builds on prior research, you must use quotes, paraphrases, and in-text and end of paper citations and references in order to provide effective summary and analysis. Consult the assigned style guide closely to ensure that you are following the guidelines to a T. In order to follow instructions, avoid plagiarism, and increase the readability of your final document, you have to cross your T’s and dot your I’s according to the specific style guide: this means paying attention to small differences, such as the APA’s use of a single initial for first names on the reference page, or the lack of a comma between the author and page number in an MLA citation. There are also websites designed to generate in-text and reference page citations automatically based upon entered data, but these type of websites must be used with caution and any generated references should be checked for completeness and accuracy. Through the proper use of quotations, paraphrases, in-text citations and the reference page, your paper will demonstrate a mastery of your research and encompass the meaningful culmination of all of your hard work.

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