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Quotation Mark Errors

When you use quotation marks, you are telling your readers that everything inside those quotation marks is borrowed from a source. The following excerpt from a student paper implies that (p. 1) is part of the source:

McDermott (2005) states, "When it comes to government endorsement, which marriage is, we shouldn't be promoting a dangerous and unhealthy lifestyle (p. 1)."

Since p. 1 is not part of McDermott's sentence, the sentence should be written:

McDermott (2005) states, "When it comes to government endorsement, which marriage is, we shouldn't be promoting a dangerous and unhealthy lifestyle " (p. 1).

Note that this student paper is documented in APA (American Psychological Association) style. This style is typically used in psychology, sociology, linguistics, and education. If the student paper were documented in MLA (Modern Language) style, the style most commonly used in the humanities and the fine arts, the sentence would be written:

McDermott states, "When it comes to government endorsement, which marriage is, we shouldn't be promoting a dangerous and unhealthy lifestyle" (1).

APA and MLA are the two styles of documentation you will probably use most in your college writing. Other styles include CMS (Chicago Manual of Style) and CSE (Council of Science Editors).

How you identify your sources will vary a bit depending on which style you are using, but the basic rules for what goes inside the quotation marks remain consistent:

  • Quotation marks indicate you are reprinting a text exactly. Do not make any changes to a quotation without alerting your readers.

  • If you must add your own words to a quotation, put those words in square brackets:

    • Out-of-context quotation is unclear : According to Lemonick, "We do not understand how these cells work" (56).

    • Quotation clarified with bracketed information : According to Lemonick, "We do not understand how these [stem] cells work" (56).

  • If you must leave words out of a quotation in order to make the sentence fit in your paper, use ellipses to indicate where you have removed information:

    • Out-of-context quotation includes a reference that readers won't understand : Roosevelt asserts, "One day, scientists hope, the entire genetic makeup of a patient like Zucker could be transferred into a cloned human egg that can produce the insulin-producing cells her body lacks" (49).

    • Quotation clarified with brackets and ellipses : Roosevelt asserts, "One day, scientists hope, the entire genetic makeup of a patient . . . [with Type I diabetes] could be transferred into a cloned human egg that can produce the insulin-producing cells her body lacks" (49).

Use brackets and ellipses sparingly. Add information only when additional background information or clarification is essential. Delete information only when it is irrelevant for your purposes. Never use ellipses to change the meaning of a text. Changing the Lemonick quotation as follows would be misleading and unethical:

According to Lemonick, "We . . . understand how these cells work" (56).

  • For more information about using brackets, see pages 451-52 of The Longman Concise Companion.

  • For more information on using ellipses, see pages 452-53.

  • For more information on APA, MLA, CMS, and CSE styles, see Chapters 24-28 (pages 190-284).

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