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Succeeding in postgraduate study
Succeeding in postgraduate study

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4.2.3 Using quotations

If you find that an author has put forward an argument in a particularly cogent way, you may wish to quote their words directly. When you quote a person, put their words in quotation marks, e.g. Halliday (1978, p.1) claims that ‘A child creates, first his child tongue, then his mother tongue, in interaction with that little coterie of people who constitute his meaning group’.

Quotations should be brief and are used sparingly for most academic purposes (including assignments). The idea is that you do most of the work of explaining the argument or position in your own words and use a quotation simply to back up what you have said, if it is essential to your discourse. There are some general rules that you should follow when using quotations.

  • You must quote exactly, including any punctuation marks.
  • Use single quotation marks to enclose the quoted words of a short quotation. Double quotation marks are used to mark off a quotation within a longer quoted passage, often a passage from a literary work.
  • If the quote is longer than about three lines it should be indented, that is, put in its own paragraph and set in further from the margin, and the quotation marks omitted.
  • Each quotation must have a reference, which should appear in brackets immediately afterwards, either naming the original source or using a number with a numbered reference at the end.
  • If you add a word of your own in the middle of a quotation for clarity, place square brackets around it.
  • If you leave out a word or phrase, then indicate what you have done by putting an ellipsis where the word or phrase was.
  • Introduce a quotation with a phrase followed either by a comma or a colon.

Different disciplines do have slightly different conventions, so do check those that apply to your particular discipline or postgraduate course and make sure that you are consistent.