How should I use quotations in academic writing?

This is the second of three chapters about Quoting. To complete this reader, read each chapter carefully and then unlock and complete our materials to check your understanding.   

– Discuss three situations in which quotations should be used

– Explore two important aspects of quotation creation

– Provide examples of how quotations should be punctuated in both British and American English

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Chapter 2

Now that you know what a quotation is and why such quotations are used, the next step toward quotation mastery is to recognise when and how to use the direct words of a source within your own writing.


When Should Quotations Be Used?

The first important rule to remember here is to never overuse quotations. Read other academic texts and you’ll notice that quotations, while used, are often used sparingly and are generally reserved for particular situations. The common rule is that no more than 10% of the source material you include as support for a piece of research or academic assignment should be quoted. Remember also that paraphrasing and summarising source information not only allows you to synthesise sources (which is a necessary skill in academic writing), but it demonstrates to your reader that you’ve sufficiently understood and integrated that source evidence.

Although quotations may be used at the writer’s discretion, the direct words of a source are particularly useful in three distinct occasions.


1. Defining a Concept

It’s quite likely that you’ll need to define a concept or subject-specific term in your academic writing to assist any reader that may not be as familiar with your subject as you are. Because it’s often difficult to paraphrase a definition without losing some aspect of the meaning, a quotation may instead work well here:

Quoting 2.1 Defining a Concept

2. Supporting a Claim

While support for a claim may be paraphrased and summarised more often than not, the occasional quotation may work well to substantiate an idea or argument in your writing. This is particularly true when the words being quoted are strong and poetic or simply poignant and well-written:

Quoting 2.2 Supporting a Claim

3. Providing Inspiration

Finally, some writer’s may wish to use a particularly famous or influential quote in their writing to inspire the reader and contextualise their topic:

Quoting 2.3 Providing Inspiration

How Should Quotations Be Used?

There are two factors that must always be considered when using quotations, and these are the length of the quotation and how to cite that quotation.


1. Quotation Length

Because short and long quotations are added to text in different ways, a writer must always pay attention to the length of the quotation they wish to use. While the general rule is that short quotations are more acceptable than long quotations because they take up less of the overall word count, the occasional lengthy quotation can be useful too depending on the situation. The most important thing to remember here is that quotations of fewer than three lines of text are considered to be short and as such should be placed directly within the text and within single or double quotation marks:

Quoting 2.4 Short Quotations

Longer quotations, however, should be placed after a line break and therefore within their own paragraphs. Such quotations should also be written without quotation marks and be further indented from the text, with a citation on the following line:

Quoting 2.5 Long Quotations

2. Citations

Another important point to remember when using quotations is that you should also inform the reader of precisely which source this quote has been taken from. Never forget to include a citation for a quotation, especially during a final submission as you may very well be accused of plagiarism and general academic misconduct. This citation should be placed directly before or after the quotation to acknowledge the source author. Additionally, and because the direct words of a source are being used, it’s important that precise page numbers are included in the citation in addition to the date of publication. For digital sources, however, URLs should be included instead of page numbers.


How Should Quotations Be Punctuated?

There are fairly strict rules for how quotations are formatted in academic writing, particularly with regards to punctuation. The general rule here is that quotes (unless longer than three lines) should always be written within quotation marks. However, there are some differences in how such quotation marks are used between American and British English dialects

Quoting 2.6 American English
Quoting 2.7 British English

While American English prefers double quotation marks and British English single, it’s important to remember also that both dialects may use either style of quotation mark if there’s a quote within a quote, such as in the following examples:

Quoting 2.8 American English Quote within a Quote
Quoting 2.9 British English Quote within a Quote

With regards to additional punctuation elements such as commas, full stops and quotations marks, the general rule here is that such punctuation should be placed outside of the quotation marks unless it’s directly a part of that quote. And of course, if the quotation is followed by a citation, then the final full stop should be placed after that citation, such as in the below example:

Quoting 2.10 Punctuation

Now that you know how quotations should be used in academic writing, the final chapter on this topic deals with how to correctly add, edit, or delete quotation text.

2 of 3 Chapters Completed


Once you’ve completed all three chapters about quoting, you might also wish to download our beginner, intermediate and advanced worksheets to test your progress or print for your students. These professional PDF worksheets can be easily accessed for only a few Academic Marks.

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