Processes of study in the arts and humanities
Processes of study in the arts and humanities

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Processes of study in the arts and humanities

6.2.1 Quoting from written texts

We have seen that when you are discussing a poem, you talk about its ‘rhythms’ or movement, its patterns of sound such as ‘rhyme’, and its ‘imagery’ and ‘syntax’, quoting words, phrases and lines from the poem as evidence of the points you want to make about it. And this applies to play-texts and novels, too. As you discuss the ‘characters’ involved, you quote parts of their ‘dialogue’ or passages from the ‘narrator's’ descriptions of them. You also quote from relevant parts of historical documents when you discuss their ‘purposes’, their ‘reliability’ as ‘sources’ of information and the ‘evidence’ they provide. And from a philosophical text when you discuss the ‘premises’ and ‘logic’ of an argument. However, in philosophical writing, part of the process of showing that you understand the ideas you have been grappling with is being able to invent examples of your own to illustrate the points you make. What matters most is how carefully you handle the details of the argument and how clearly you explain yourself.

Presenting quotations

The general points about quoting from secondary sources (using quotation marks and three dots to indicate that some words have been left out, for example) apply when you quote from any prose passage such as an historical document, novel or philosophical argument. But when you quote more than a few words you should indent the quotation rather than trying to incorporate it in the flow of a sentence, as follows:

Ellis concludes that:

The steady migration of women into the towns was the logical consequence of conventional perceptions of femininity and of correct female behaviour.

In this case, you do not use quotation marks because you are indicating that it is a quotation by indenting it.

However, when you quote from poetry you have to show where lines end.

If you quote only a few words you can incorporate them into a sentence, separating the lines with a slash (/):

In ‘the quick sharp scratch/And blue spurt…’ the consonants are dental and the vowel sounds short, in keeping with the sound of the match-lighting that the words evoke.

If you want to quote more than one line of the poem in full, you should indent the quotation:

Here, though, the consonants are dental and the vowel sounds short:

A tap at the pane, the quick sharp scratch

And blue spurt of a lighted match,…

Notice that all punctuation marks must be included in the quotation too. Indeed, whenever you use quotation you must quote accurately.

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