Incorporating Quotes: A Guide 

Using quotes in your writing can provide evidence, clarify a point, preserve the voice of the original work, and add pizzazz to your piece. Integrating quotes fluidly and effectively will help to strengthen your written work. The following guide overviews tips, tricks, and examples to guide you through quote incorporation. 

Note: Always be aware of the discipline you’re writing in, and whether direct quotes are appropriate or not. For example, direct quotes are not usually used in lab reports. 

Signal Phrases 

Signal phrases are clauses used to introduce a quote into your writing. The phrase signals to readers that you are using quoted material, provides context, and smooths the transition between your writing and the evidence you are sharing. Signal phrasescan go anywhere in the sentence and can even link two quotes in the same sentence.In the following examples, signal phrases are bolded.  

According to Donald Duck, “We live in a society.” 

In his acclaimed, Nobel-prize-winning Society, Dr. Duck writes, “We live in a society.”  

“We live,” Dr. Duck writes, “in a society.”  

Dr. Duck claims that “We live in a society” and the only way to break free is to “throw away our phones and venture into the woods.”  

Dr. Duck believes that “We live in a society,” but Dr. Mouse clearly disagrees: “Societies are a fictional concept developed by corporations.”  

Note: Ending punctuation goes inside the quotation marks except for when the quote is followed by an in-text citation; in that case, the ending punctuation goes after the parentheses.

You don’t always need to use a comma after a signal phrase. You can incorporate a quote into your own sentence without any punctuation or with the use of a complete sentence and a colon.  

Here are three rules for punctuating different types of signal phrases: 


Rule 1: If you’re using a complete sentence to introduce the quote, use a colon just before the quotation. Complete sentence: “quotation.”  

Example:In Mickey Mouse Fun House, Dr. Duck illustrates how adamant he feels about the need for freedom:“We must throw away our phones and venture into the woods.” 


Rule 2: If the word directly before the quotation is a verb (action word) indicating someone spoke the quoted words, use a comma. (For example, verbs like “says,” “said,” “writes,” “demands,” indicate the need for a comma). Someone says, “quotation.” 

Example: Dr. Duck argues,“We live in a society.” 


Rule 3: If the above rules don’t apply, don’t use any punctuation between your words and the quoted words. Someone says that “quotation.” 

Example:Dr. Duck believes that“We live in a society.”


For more about signal phrases and how to use them, visit the George Mason University Writing Center "Signal Phrases" guide.

Using Punctuation to Shorten or Clarify Quotes

Different types of punctuation can be used to shorten quotes or to provide clarity/information about the quoted material.  

An ellipsis, when used with brackets,(e.g. […]), can be used to shorten quotes or omit unnecessary parts of the quote. For example, you could use an ellipsis to indicate that you are using pieces of the quote, but not the whole quote. Ellipses replace the omitted text.  

Note: Remember to maintain the integrity of the quote—don't change its meaning by omitting key information.  

Original quote: “Many students think they are required to know exactly what they want to do immediately after high school. However, this is not always the case. Many students find that they will change their mind, major, career path, and passions multiple times.”  

Integrated quote into own writing: Dr. B posits that “many students think they are required to know exactly what they want to do immediately after high school. However, […] many students find that they will change their mind, major, career path, and passions multiple times.” 

Note: An ellipsis is not necessary when you cut off the end of a quote.

Brackets can be used to clarify the meaning of a quoted word. Do not use parentheses unless they are already part of the quoted material! 

Example: “[Students] do not know what they want to do with their lives after they graduate.”


Brackets are also used in the notation [sic], which means a quote has been copied verbatim, including spelling errors or grammatical mistakes. In fact, in Latin sic means “intentionally so written,” showing that the error existed in the original work.  


Original quote: “Students donut know how to use proper spelling.” 

Quoted material: Dr. B writes that “Students donut [sic] know how to use proper spelling.” 

Using brackets to alter verb tense: 

Sometimes brackets are used to make slight changes to a quote, so that it flows better and makes sense in context.  


Original quote: “Many students arehavingtrouble succeeding without pet dogs.”  

Quoted material: Dr. J posits that "Many students [have] trouble succeeding without pet dogs.”

Rules for Capitalization  

When do you need to capitalize the first letter of a quotation? 

  • CAPITALIZEifyou’re quoting a full sentence(regardless of whether the quote is placed at the beginning, middle, or end of your sentence).
  • DON’T CAPITALIZEifyou’re quoting a partial quotation (an incomplete sentence or sentence fragment).  

Original quote: “To be, or not to be, that is the question.” 

Integrated quote (full sentence): Shakespeare writes, “To be, or not to be, that is the question.” 

Integrated quote (partial quotation): People often ponder this question: “to be, or not to be.” 

Quotes Within Quotes

When you want to use a quote from your source that has quotation marks within it, simply change the quotation marks from the original source to apostrophes:  

Example (original text): Fruit salad is ambrosia, "the salad of the gods." 

Example (quoted in essay): Cook tells us that "Fruit salad is ambrosia, 'the salad of the gods.'" 

When you want to use a quote that is used within a secondary source, it is best to find the original source to cite, but this is not always possible. Instead, you will have to cite both the original author and the source you pulled the quote from. Thecitation format will vary between citation styles:  

APA example:  

Sobel (2013, as cited in Freeman, 2013) says that "When you reduce the sugar, fat, and salt in foods, you change the personality of the product." 

MLA example: 

Chemist Robert Sobel says that "When you reduce the sugar, fat, and salt in foods, you change the personality of the product" (qtd. in Freeman 528-9). 

In both cases, you will only have the secondary source, written by Freeman, in your works cited list. 

Block Quotes 

For long quotes, most citation styles recommend using a “block quote” format. Block quotes are separated into their own paragraph and indented. The quotation marks are also removed. The specific rules around block quotes vary slightly depending on the citation style. For APA, block quotes are used for text that is longer than 40 words; for MLA, they are used if the text is four lines or longer. Block quotes are introduced with a colon. They are double-spaced and all lines are indented. In-text citations are placed at the end of the quote, after the period.  

MLA Example:  

Dr. Donald Duck analyzes the connection between youths and belief in society:  

While most Americans are known to believe in the existence of society, children tend to have conflicting opinions on the matter. Some take an egotistical, hedonistic perspective, viewing themselves as the center of the universe. Social contracts and obligations are forgotten in favor of personal drive. However, we must not blame the children for this state. The solution is education and, primarily, patience. (Duck 23)

Quoting Poetry 

If a direct quotation is contained in a single line of poetry, you can place it within quotation marks like any other quote. However, if the direct quotation is from 2 or 3 lines of poetry, you must indicate line breaks with a slash / and a space on both sides of the slash. If there are four or more lines, separate them into a block quote.  

Example (one line of poetry): In the poem “Song of Myself,”Walt Whitman writes, "Do I contradict myself?” 

Example (multiple lines of poetry): In the poem “Song of Myself,” part of the Leaves of Grass collection, Walt Whitman writes, "Do I contradict myself? / Very well then…. I contradict myself; / I am large…. I contain multitudes.”

Works Cited

“APA 7thEdition Guide: Secondary Source / Indirect Citation (as cited in...).”Concordia University - Saint Paul

Library Services, 

Bender, John R. et al. “Guidelines for Capitalizing and Punctuating Quotations.” Oxford University Press, 

“Block Quotes.” University of Illinois, Springfield, The Learning Hub.,block%20quotations%20are%20used%20instead 

Graff, Gerald. “The Art of Quoting.” They Say / I Say: The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing, by Gerald Graff

and Cathy Birkenstein, New York, W.W. Norton & Company, 2010, pp. 42–51. 

“Inserting or Altering Words in a Direct Quotation.” Writing Commons, 

“MLA Citation Guide (8th Edition): Works Quoted in Another Source.” Capilano University Library,

“Signal Phrases.” George Mason University Writing Center, 

“What Does Sic Mean?” Grammarly Blog,