How To Discuss and Adjust Quotations in Academic and Scientific Writing
In most instances, the words of writers or speakers are directly quoted in academic and scientific writing because those words are exactly what the quoting author needs to support or discuss his or her new research. Occasionally, however, small adjustments are made to quotations. Alterations should never be undertaken to change the meaning of quoted material, and all changes should be kept to a bare minimum, but sometimes adjustments are necessary to clarify for readers the meaning of the source or to enable the quotation to run into the prose of the quoting author without creating grammatical errors.
Although 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, some disciplines and styles will require every change, no matter how tiny, to be marked, so do check the relevant guidelines or consult a mentor if you are unsure of the requirements. Anything beyond such small changes should always be marked so that readers know how a quotation has been altered. As a general rule, 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 enclosed in square brackets, not [round brackets], while omissions are [usually] indicated by ellipses.’ Whether you are observing specific guidelines, using a particular style guide or devising your own methods of indicating changes in quotations, it is essential that those methods remain consistent throughout a document to avoid confusion.
Also essential to effective and persuasive quotation practices is ensuring that readers see exactly what you want them to see in a quotation and 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 relates to your research, but it is unlikely to be quite so obvious to others. It is neither acceptable nor sound scholarship simply to quote a passage and expect readers to understand its relevance and significance. Each quotation should therefore 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 the quotation.
How you choose or need to discuss the passages you quote will vary from quotation to quotation along with your reasons for quoting, but the key is to ensure that every quotation you use in support of your argument actually achieves what you intend, and this can only be the case if your reader understands what you intend and is persuaded by the quotation and your discussion of it. Keep in mind that an effective 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 appropriate introduction or explanation is likely to produce negative results.
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