How To Make the Most of Direct Quotations in Your Thesis or Dissertation

How To Adjust, Introduce and Discuss Quotations in Your Thesis or Dissertation
When the words of writers or speakers are directly quoted in academic and scientific theses and dissertations, it is usually because those words are exactly what the students quoting them require to support or discuss their own research. In some cases, however, one or more adjustments might be made to quotations. Such alterations should never be undertaken to change the meaning of quoted material, and all adjustments to quotations should be kept to a bare minimum, but sometimes changes are necessary to clarify for readers the meaning of the quoted words or to present the quotation smoothly and effectively in the quoting author’s prose without creating awkward constructions or grammatical errors.

Very small alterations such as changing a comma to a full stop or an uppercase letter to a lowercase one can be made in most instances without any special indicators, but do keep in mind that some disciplines and styles will require every change, no matter how tiny, to be marked, so it is wise to check the guidelines for theses and dissertations provided by your department or consult your supervisor or primary mentor if you are unsure of the requirements for your text. Anything beyond such small changes should always be marked so that readers know what has been altered in a quotation. Generally speaking, additions and alterations to quotations are enclosed in square brackets, not parentheses, while omissions are indicated by ellipses. For example, this is how changes would be recorded when quoting from the preceding sentence: ‘additions…to quotations are [usually] enclosed in square brackets…, while omissions are [generally] indicated by ellipses.’ Whether you are observing specific guidelines, using a particular style guide or devising your own methods for indicating changes in quotations, it is essential that those methods remain consistent throughout your thesis or dissertation to represent with accuracy the authors you quote and to avoid confusing your readers.
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It is essential whenever you directly quote material that your readers see precisely what you want them to see in a quotation and also understand why you are using it in relation to your research and argument. It may seem obvious to you exactly how a passage you have chosen to quote in your thesis or dissertation relates to your research, but it is unlikely to be quite so obvious to others. Keep in mind that it is neither acceptable nor sound scholarship simply to quote a passage and expect readers to understand its relevance and significance. Instead, each quotation should be appropriately introduced and its relationship to your argument discussed. Your discussion may be very brief – a single sentence, for instance, outlining the main points – or long and detailed, with several paragraphs of analysis and assessment following a quotation.

There will no doubt be considerable variation in how you choose or need to discuss the different passages you quote, just as there will be variation in your reasons for quoting them, but the key to success lies in ensuring that every quotation you use in support of your argument actually achieves what you intend. This can only be the case if your reader understands your intentions and is persuaded by both the quotation and your discussion of it. Remember that an accurate and appropriate quotation that is discussed with clarity and insight can be worth far more than its word count, but one that is used without the correct scholarly techniques and left standing on its own without an effective introduction or explanation is likely to come across as a poor use of scholarship and lose the readers you hope to convince.

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