What is a quote?

A quote is any passage of writing lifted word-for-word from a source of any kind, whether it be a textbook, a website, a scholarly monograph, a newspaper article, or any other source.

Such word-for-word quotes are placed in quotation marks - double, not single quotation marks: "Quote." (On the use of single quotation marks, go to Advanced Quoting Skills).


To quote or not to quote

Avoid quoting basic facts: dates, figures, statistics. Such information is best summarized in your own words. Generally known information (that FDR was elected in 1932, for example, or that World War II lasted from 1939 to 1945) does not require a quote, nor a reference. If the information you are providing is not generally known, however - the exact inflation rates of Germany prior to Hitler's assumption of power, or the annual unemployment statistics for the United States during the Great Depression - you will provide a reference to the source from which you got the information - as explained further below, under Quotes and References.

Rather than waste your quotes on basic facts better summarized in your own words, use quotes strategically and for maximum impact:

  • Quote well-worded or tellingly phrased passages that elegantly sum up key points, or illuminate central issues explored in your paper.
  • Quote historical players, historians, or documents relevant to your story, especially if their words address interesting aspects of your topic.
  • Quote primary sources - contemporary newspaper accounts, editorials, magazine features, etc. - to establish the way the topic of your paper was viewed in its own time.
  • Quote fiction/poetry, if available, that sheds an additional light on your subject.
  • For all of the above, establish a broader context if necessary (who said this, when, where, through which medium, addressed to whom, etc.), and...
  • Be sure to draw your reader's attention to any bias or prejudice, or any slant or agenda, displayed in any of your quotes, especially if such bias is not self evident.

All quotes of the above variety, or of any kind, require a reference, as explained further below, under Quotes and References.


How much to quote?

Lengthy quotes exceeding five or six lines in length are subject to special formatting rules explained in Advanced Quoting Skills, under "block quotes."

While lengthy block quotes are sometimes unavoidable, we offer the following basic rule: use quotes sparingly and, generally, don't over quote. Quotes should never make up more than one third of your paper - ideally, less. Remember that you, not your quotes, are arguing your point. The quotes support, help prove, or illustrate your argument, but it is you and your own words that ultimately make the point.

Accordingly, quote in support or in illustration of your argument, but state, develop, and argue your case yourself, in your own words.


Quotes and references

Following the end of any word-for-word quote, as well as any piece of information not generally known, you must list a reference. This reference provides basic information on your source: where you got your facts. The exact information you provide in the reference, and how the reference is formatted on the page, depends on the system of annotation you are using. There are two such systems used for history papers: MLA and Chicago. Ask your professor which of those two systems you are to apply, then find its correct rules by following the links below.