How to Use Quotes in Academic Writing and Avoid Plagiarism

October 25th, 2021

Reading time about 13 min

Quoting reliable sources in an academic piece is an excellent way to expand upon your idea/s. It is also a great way to support your argument with fact-based data and information. But just like everything else, there are right and wrong ways to use quotes when writing essays

In fact, according to the website My GRE Exam Preparation, the three (3) main reasons a writer should use quotations in their essays is to:

  1. establish authority and credibility
  2. support your claims, theses, and opinions
  3. demonstrate your in-depth knowledge of the topic

Regardless of academic writing style, all will require you to practice proper citation whenever you decide to include words that are not your creation. 

If you want to avoid plagiarism, these tips for how to use quotes in academic writing can help. 

What is a quote, and why should you use them?

the thinker

Quotes are basically passages taken from a specific author’s work and legally used in another person’s composition to support or emphasize an idea. When using quotes in an essay or another literary piece, they should: 

  • Be enclosed in quotation marks (“ “ or ‘ ‘)
  • Correctly mention the original author
  • Be identical to what was originally stated

Quotations can make or break your essay. It can help you demonstrate your knowledge and savvy of the topic that you’re writing about. On the flip side, it could also show readers that you don’t have such a comprehensive understanding of your argument.

How do I use quotes in an essay the right way?

When you’re thinking about using quotations in your essay, the first thing you want to identify is why. 

Why do you want to use this quote or quotes in your piece? How will they support your argument?

The most common mistake that students and — in some cases — professionals make is using quotes for the sake of quoting. 

Here’s an example of a poorly integrated quote: 

poorly written quotes examples

Image source: Excelsior.edu

In this example, the author simply drops the quote into his text without preface or context. When a reader views this, he may feel confused or unsure about the message that the author is trying to deliver.

Quotes can be used to supplement theories and hypotheses. It can also be used to describe a character, setting, or symbol in a literary piece. Therefore, the quotes you choose to use should be intrinsically relevant to your discussion

The right way of using quotes may look something like this:

the right way to use quotes

Image source: Writingcenter.unc

In this example, the writer uses John Doe’s statement from 1941 to supplement his argument. You can clearly see its relevance to the topic, and it doesn’t cause any confusion for the reader because the writer has successfully introduced the quote and given it context. 

Besides thinking about “why” you should use a quote in your essay, your citation style is the next thing you want to consider. 

What are the different citation styles?

There are two major citation styles that are essential to college-level academic writing:

  • Modern Language Association (MLA)
  • American Psychological Association (APA)

Let’s take a closer look at each.

MLA Style

person writing with pen

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The MLA style of writing is often used by those studying humanities. This includes discussions related to art, philosophy, music, religion, linguistics, and more. 

When using the MLA style of writing, you need to create two citations to show your readers where your quote or information originated. 

The first quote will be an in-text parenthetical citation, consisting of the author’s last name and the page number from which the quote was lifted.

Ex. (Smith 246) or (Smith et al. 246) if there is more than one author.

The second citation is not in-text but rather is mentioned at the very end of the essay. This is often referred to as the “reference” or “full reference”.

Here’s the formula to writing MLA style references: 

Author’s Last Name, First Name.Book Title. Publisher, Year Published. 

If there’s more than one author, you don’t need to mention everyone involved in the study. Simply cite the work as so:

Author’s Last Name, First Name, et al.Book Title. Publisher, Year Published. 

MLA Style Essay Format — YouTube

APA Style

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The APA style of writing is most commonly used in disciplines like anthropology, business, communication, political science, education, and psychology. Similar to the MLA style, it also uses brief in-text citations that point to a list of references that appear at the end of a piece. 

The only difference is, the APA style uses an author-date system instead of the author-page number that the MLA uses. 

There are three ways to write in-text APA style citations:

  • Citing after a passage, e.g., In the beginning, stages of the study …(Simpsons, 2006)
  • Citing quote after author, e.g., Simpsons (2003) described the beginning stages of…
  • Citation is embedded in-text, e.g., In his 2003 study, Simpsons described…

If you plan on using direct quotes (and not paraphrases), provide the page number after the year of publication. 

Example:

Image source: UW.edu

Meanwhile, references are written using the formula below:

Author Last Name, First Name Initial. (Date). Book title. Publisher. 

If these don’t work for you, there are other citation and organization styles available that you can check out. 

Furthermore, consider taking a course on college-level writing This can help you upgrade your skills and avoid plagiarism issues. 

You can find more information on this page about great online college-level writing courses. 

How to Format Your Paper in APA Style — YouTube

Should I use a plagiarism checker before submitting my work?

It’s easy for students to commit errors like forgetting to include quotation marks or neglecting an important piece of reference in their paper. And while these mistakes may seem harmless on the surface, they can get you in a ton of trouble if not addressed quickly. 

Plagiarism checkers, such as Grammarly and Copyleaks, are great tools to add to your arsenal of essay writing equipment. 

copyleaks homepage

Image source: Copyleaks.com

These tools can help weed out plagiarized paragraphs or sentences in your text and provide you with a full report of similar sources to allow you to check and edit your work as necessary. 

Warning: Be careful of FREE plagiarism checkers, as these tools may not always work the way you intend them. Some may skip sources or fail to detect accidentally plagiarized texts in your work. This defeats the purpose of using a plagiarism checker and can still land you in pretty hot water later. 

A good rule of thumb is to only use plagiarism tools that have exceptional accuracy and user ratings. They may be a little expensive in the beginning, but that price is a small price to pay compared to plagiarism fees. 

The bottom line

students doing groupwork

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Adding quotations to your essay can be a great way to affirm your message — if you do it right. Always consider the relevance of your chosen quote to your topic; NEVER use quotes simply for the sake of quoting or looking sophisticated. 

Furthermore, avoid using quotes simply for the purpose of making your text longer. Try to have solid and meaningful intentions behind your quotations. This will help you become a more effective writer, as well as help your reader understand the full message of your story. 

Lastly, try to see if you can save up enough for a trusty plagiarism checker tool. This software can help you identify accidentally plagiarized sentences and paragraphs in your work, so you can avoid hefty fines should you be hit with a plagiarism lawsuit.

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