Introducing Quoted Material

George P. Landow

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Introducing quoted passages — the student of literature's data — offers writers one of their most powerful tools. We quote other texts because they exemplify something with which we disagree, provide an example of some general point, or support our own argument. But to quote a text effectively, we have to let readers know what we expect them to treat it. If we can't come up with anythng more informative than "Shakespeare writes," we not only lose a key opportunity to show the reader what we mean we also come off looking like clueless dolts. If we have nothing more informative to offer than "Shakespeare writes" — almost always a completely useless phrase when quoting from a play that everyone knows Shakespeeare wrote — we also risk annoying readers who want and need to be told why we ask them to read that quoted text.

1. Avoid introducing quotations with non-informative phrases (e.g., "Pope states," "She says") and try to lead readers into the quoted material by letting them know what to expect. In the following passage the author has a fine introduction but doesn't realize it:

Finally, Austen ends the passage with a distinct notion of sarcasm. She states: "To this speech, Bingley made no answer."

Fixing the errors in idiom and cutting the unnecessary words make this introduction much stronger.

Finally, Austen ends the passage ON a distinctLY SARCASTIC NOTE: "To this speech, Bingley made no answer."

2. A quick way to add strength and clarity: take the noun or phrase following due to and because of, and make that noun or phrase the subject the sentence. Thus: Instead of "Due to the war, his business failed," try (1) "The war made his business fail" or (2) "The war destroyed his business."

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Last modified 4 December 2006