Using Sources in Quotations Guide for ESL students


A quotation is…

using the exact words from a source in your paper.  You can use a quotation for specific phrases that explain the author’s point best. We often quote when we need to:

  • rely on the authority of the source

The Purdue OWL website explains that quotations “must match the source document word for word” (para.3).

  • preserve the style of the source

Hacker (2011) warns, “you commit plagiarism if you patchwrite – half-copy the author’s sentences with your own without using quotation marks” (p. 401).

  • comment on or analyze the source’s word choice

Gillett (n.d.) insists that the source of ideas should be “explicit” (para. 5).

  • define a term, theory, or principle

The ACRL (2016) defines metaliteracy as “set of abilities in which students are consumers and creators of information” (para. 4).

  • refer to a book, speech, or other famous work

Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “Do one thing every day that scares you.”


That said, quotations should not be used often! Generally, a paraphrase or summary of the source will fit better into your own writing. In academic writing, it is much more common to quote just a few words rather than sentences or long chunks.

If you must quote –because the source’s authentic words are essential – then you should introduce or follow the quote with a comment to explain its significance. Your paper should build toward expressing your ideas on the topic, so sources should always be used to support your message.

Keep in mind that idioms and proverbs are not considered appropriate for academic writing. For example, the phrase “killing two birds with one stone” is so common that it doesn’t represent a specific meaning anymore. Likewise, “it costs an arm and a leg” is too informal for good academic writing. Instead, be clear about what you mean to say.

In general, quotes should always include a reporting signal to demonstrate the source. The rules for punctuation and grammar depend on which reporting signal you use and how you use it. In general, try to keep your quote short and build it into a sentence with your original idea, unless it is necessary to include a long quote.

Four forms of quotations

Casual quote

Source + Reporting Signal + Comma + Quote [Sentence]

Stephen King states, “writing is a lonely job.”

Academic quote

Source + Reporting Signal + Quote [Noun Clause/Sentence].

            Stephen King observes that “writing is a lonely job” (p. 74).

 Short quote

Source + quote inside your own sentence

Successful writers often comment on how difficult writing is; for example, Stephen King calls it “lonely” (p. 74).

Block quote

Source + Reporting signal + indented quote of 40 words or more

            Stephen King states

Whenever I see a first novel dedicated to a wife (or husband), I smile and think, There’s someone who knows. Writing is a lonely job. Having someone who believes in you makes a lot of difference. They don’t have to make speeches. Just believing is usually enough. (p. 74)

In an academic paper, a quote always needs a page number.  If you are using a digital source, such as a website, use the paragraph number instead.

If you need to change a quote, you can take out words with ellipses (…) or change words with brackets [  ].

Wette found that non-native writers overuse “the strategy of using synonyms to closely paraphrase some content...and many reported that, in general, they felt their knowledge of academic vocabulary in English was inadequate” (p. 168).

According to Wette, “they [students] felt their knowledge of academic vocabulary in English was inadequate” (p. 168).

Association of College and Research Libraries (2016). Framework for information literacy for higher education. Retrieved from

Gillett, A. (n.d.) Citing Sources. Retrieved from

Hacker, D., & Sommers, N. (2011). A Writer’s Reference with Writing in the Disciplines. Boston: Macmillan.

King, S. (2000). On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. New York: Scribner.

Purdue Online Writing Lab (2013). Quoting, paraphrasing, and summarizing. Retrieved from

Wette, R. (2010). Evaluating student learning in a university-level EAP unit on writing using sources. Journal Of Second Language Writing, 19(3), 158-177.

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