Academic Writing: How to Use Quotations

In an earlier post on building effective academic arguments, I discussed the need to use evidence to support claims. Often, academic writers use the insights of other writers as supporting evidence for their claims. (In fact, this is the premise for writing literature reviews.) Quotations from other writers can be an especially strong form of evidence. However, there are some guidelines to keep in mind when using quotations in academic writing.

First, it is important to remember that quotations provide support for your argument; they are not a substitute for your argument. In other words, you need to make your own claims clearly, in your own words, and not rely on the quoted material to make your argument for you. The following strategies are helpful:

  • State your own claim first, before using a quotation.
  • Introduce the quotation before you use it. Use signal phrases (Supporting your argument, n.d.) or lead-in phrases (Using evidence, 2011) to tell the reader that you are about to use a quotation. These phrases also let the reader know which ideas and words are yours, and which ideas and words belong to the author of the quotation (Supporting your argument, n.d.).  Examples of signal phrases include:

[Author’s name] suggested…

[Author’s name] pointed out…

[Author’s name] added…

[Author’s name] commented…

[Author’s name] noted…

[Author’s name] observed…

[Author’s name] stated…

  • Follow the quotation with a comment on its significance and why you used it (Using evidence, 2011). This builds a logical connection between the evidence and your argument.
  • Use quotations sparingly. The above strategies suggest that no more than a single quotation should be used in any paragraph, if you are to use a quotation effectively.

Second, it is important to remember that quotations are other people’s words. They must be identified clearly as such in your text. This shows appropriate respect to the original author, and also protects you against allegations of plagiarism. The use of signal phrases and lead-in phrases identifies the quotation as someone else’s words. In addition, the following strategies should be used:

  • Place all quoted material in quotation marks.
  • Make sure that your quotation is accurate (Supporting your argument, n.d.). Double-check your spelling, grammar, language, and punctuation against those in the original source.
  • If you make any changes within a quotation, such as changing verb tenses or pronouns so that the quotation  flows smoothly within the text of your paper or deleting a portion of the quotation, indicate the changes by placing them in brackets [ ]. (Quotations, 2010-2013; Supporting your argument, n.d.). Take care to respect and preserve the original meaning of the quoted passage.
  • Cite your sources. Give proper credit to the original source by using proper APA in-text citation format. Also, include full information for the source of the quote by making an entry in a reference list. Every in-text citation should have a corresponding reference list entry, and vice versa.

By following these strategies, you will be able to build strong arguments with well-supported claims by integrating quotations into your argument. You will also demonstrate your respect to the original author by quoting his or her words accurately and identifying the source of the quotation.


Quotations. (2010-2013). The Writing Center. Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Retrieved from

Supporting your argument: A lit crit toolbox. (n.d.). UVM Writing Center. Burlington, VT: University of Vermont. Retrieved from

Using evidence. (2011). Writing Tutorial Services. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Bloomington. Retrieved from