Why quote? You may have heard that you should bring in quotations in order to justify a position or present another writer’s position as a foil to your own. These strategies are useful, but we’d like to add more ways that you can begin to contribute to a conversation, too.
|Justifying a position||Establishing a foil|
|One of the great dangers of gun control is tyranny. As Wayne LaPierre, CEO of the National Rifle Association, argued in 2013, the Founding Fathers issued the Second Amendment so that “free people in this new country [the United States of America] would never be subjugated again and have to live under tyranny.”||According to researchers, using social media is “associated with decreases in participants’ communication with family members in the household, declines in the size of their social circle, and increases in depression and loneliness” (Matsuba 275). This research has been proven wrong.|
What is generally more fruitful is to engage with quotations. So, think about how you can build on the quotation or work on the material included in the quotation in ways that will help move your argument forward. To help you complicate and extend your analysis, try answering some of these questions:
- Can I offer an alternative interpretation or way of thinking about this issue? Does the fact that I inhabit a different perspective than the writer lead me to this other interpretation or way of thinking?
- Why does the writer see things differently than I do? What does the writer take for granted?
- Is there anything that the writer’s language or underlying framework make invisible?
- What is the original context of the quotation? What is the writer’s purpose?
- Even if I disagree with the writer’s conclusions, are there any ideas, formulations, approaches, etc., that I could adapt for my own purposes or otherwise put to use?
If you find that you can’t build on the ideas or language of a quotation, or can’t trouble it or respond to it or work with it in any of the ways above, then you should consider whether it’s really useful to include that quotation in the first place.
Focus not on just the words, but on what you’re able to do with them. Because your essay is an opportunity for you to put your intellectual work on display to others, don’t quote to such an extent or in such a way that your own voice recedes into the background. While you should think of your essay as a space in which you collaborate or enter into conversation with others, you should nevertheless remain in control, coordinating the movement of and relationships among other writers’ voices and ideas while emphasizing your own contributions.
The two simplified uses of evidence above can be revised so your own perspective as a writer and thinker begins to emerge. Note how the example from the left hand column uses quoted material to serve as the ground where the reader and writer might share a common understanding from which the writer may then develop a different line of thought.
In the examples below, the writer revises the work so that the quotation becomes the departure point for an analysis of the way that the quoted material handles the word, in this case, “tyranny.” In the “Before” example, the quoted material restates a point the writer makes. In the revised and expanded passage, the quoted material establishes an interpretation of a term that closely follows the text of the original (the Second Amendment to the US Constitution), which the writer will then “work on” by examining how “tyranny” can be a relative rather than absolute term.
|Before, restatement||After, “works on” a word from the quotation|
|One of the great dangers of gun control is tyranny. As Wayne LaPierre, CEO of the National Rifle Association, argued in 2013, the Founding Fathers issued the Second Amendment so that “free people in this new country [the United States of America] would never be subjugated again and have to live under tyranny.”||Wayne LaPierre, CEO of the National Rifle Association argued in 2013, that the Second Amendment was a guarantee that “free people in this new country [the United States of America] would never be subjugated again and have to live under tyranny.” Tyranny was the label given to what the Patriots saw as an invading army, the British. At the same time, the colonies were home to many “Loyalists,” who did not see the British government as tyrannical. The inhabitants of the same geography had different relationships to two different governments, with a resulting conflict: one man’s tyrant was another man’s king. If we move the debate from the colonial period to our own present, we might still want to consider how we can read the Second Amendment when some groups believe that the current US government is tyrannical, while others experience the daily life of a citizen as relatively free. Small militia groups such as one led by Ammon Bundy during the “Sagebrush Rebellion” have opposed the US government’s taxes, land management, and other laws that the majority of citizens accept as part of the rule of law. . . .|
To complicate evidence that you do not necessarily fully agree with, you can do more than state that the evidence is incorrect. To “enter the conversation,” point out where you see shortcomings in the evidence, which may include unacknowledged assumptions and gaps in the analysis, as illustrated in the “after” example, below. Once you have articulated your perspective on the shortcomings, begin to consider how you might account for the limitations in the evidence. The author of the passage in the right column introduces the idea that another group of people that the researchers did not take into consideration may in fact use the internet differently from what the original researchers considered.
|Before, simple foil||After, introduces a new line of thought|
|According to researchers, using social media is “associated with decreases in participants’ communication with family members in the household, declines in the size of their social circle, and increases in depression and loneliness” (Matsuba 275). This research has been proven wrong.||According to researchers, using social media is “associated with decreases in participants’ communication with family members in the household, declines in the size of their social circle, and increases in depression and loneliness” (Matsuba 275). This research does not take into consideration that the research subjects may have already been depressed and isolated. For the depressed or isolated person, online interactions were in fact the only means they had to reach out to other people.|
Finally, so that you can more expertly do this sort of coordinating, you should try to develop a repertoire of ways of integrating the ideas and language of other writers. Learn how and when to use block quotes, effectively paraphrase, and incorporate quotations into your own language.
|Paraphrasing another writer’s language:
Kenneth Burke likens discourse to an unending conversation that one enters as it is already in progress: the writer arrives, attempts to understand what’s at stake in the conversation, then contributes original ideas. Of course, the conversation continues even after the writer has withdrawn from it, with others taking the writer’s place (Burke 110–111).
In a well-known passage, Kenneth Burke likens discourse to an unending “discussion” that “you”—the writer—enter as it is already in progress. Calling the discussion “too heated for [the others] to pause and tell you exactly what it is about,” Burke writes that, before contributing, you must “listen . . . until you decide that you have caught the tenor of the argument” (110–111).
Using a block quote:
Kenneth Burke’s well-known “parlor” metaphor offers a useful way of envisioning academic discourse:
Imagine that you enter a parlor. You come late. When you arrive, others have long preceded you, and they are engaged in a heated discussion, a discussion too heated for them to pause and tell you exactly what it is about. In fact, the discussion had already begun long before any of them got there, so that no one present is qualified to retrace for you all the steps that had gone before. You listen for a while, until you decide that you have caught the tenor of the argument; then you put in your oar. Someone answers; you answer him; another comes to your defense; another aligns himself against you, to either the embarrassment or gratification of your opponent, depending upon the quality of your ally’s assistance. However, the discussion is interminable. The hour grows late, you must depart. And you do depart, with the discussion still vigorously in progress. (110–111)