Friday, June 21, 2013

How to Use Quotations from the Text

Respond to Your Quotes!
Select a quote that you can respond to, not something that you think says everything that needs to be said. Those quotes are boring conversation stoppers. You want ideas that you can comment on. Even something that you think is the end all, be all is something you can comment on. Find a quote that says "The Tempest is Shakespeare's last play because it is his most definitive play," and you can follow that with a discussion of what "definitive" could mean in the canon of a prolific writer and what about the play may or may not be definitive.


DO NOT QUOTE AND THEN MOVE ON TO ANOTHER IDEA. 
TO DO SO IS A QUOTE HIT-AND-RUN AND IT IS ILLEGAL IN ALL ESSAYS FOR ME. 

Example:


Chivalry was a standard of behavior for all of life but was connected to warfare. John Lynn states in Battle: A History of Combat and Culture that "In combat between aristocratic knights, the code of chivalry could very much apply" (101). Music was also very important in this culture, as was weaving. 


BAD. BAD. BAD.


Instead, respond to every single quote, always and forever, by doing the following three things:


1. Restate the quote in your own words, because it's dangerous to assume that your reader is getting the same thing out of it that you are. This is an opportunity to explain terminology or vocabulary being used by your source that your reader might not know, as well as any context from the source that isn't in the part of the text you chose to quote.. Use at least one sentence for this.

2. Discuss the quote - respond to it with your own thoughts. What is interesting in the wording, or the details? Unpack the quote. Use at least one sentence.
3. Tie what you've now discussed back to your thesis from your introductory paragraph, which in this example, we'll say was an argument that while Beowulf is a Germanic tribe story from a pre-chivalric medieval culture, it was transcribed by someone in a chivalric culture and so was reshaped to fit that culture's preferences.

new example: 


Chivalry was a standard of behavior for all of life but was connected to warfare. John Lynn states in Battle: A History of Combat and Culture that "In combat between aristocratic knights, the code of chivalry could very much apply" (101). What Lynn is pointing out here is that the tenets of the chivalric code, like a respect for the honor of one's opponent, existed beyond tournaments and could also be found in battle. It is interesting to note that this was between "aristocratic knights," indicating that fighters from other social classes may not have felt held to the same standards, or at least could not expect to find them extended to themselves. This may explain differences in Beowulf's treatment of fellow knights when compared to the monsters he fights - he does not perceive Grendel or the dragon to be honorable opponents, and so does not perceive himself bound to a chivalric code when fighting them.  

The second use of the quote actually puts the quote to work for the argument, whereas the first lets the quote just sit there, lazy and unhelpful. And besides, the first use has 52 words; the second has 157. Any time students come to me and says they are having trouble reaching the word count minimum, I can just about go to the bank on the fact that they haven't fully discussed their quotes. Do this for every single quote and you can't help but have a rich, developed, complete essay.


Introduce Your Quotes!

Always, always, always. Failing to do so sends me into a frenzy, and it's so easy to do it correctly.

Instead of this:


Chivalry was a standard of behavior for all of life but was connected to warfare. "In combat between aristocratic knights, the code of chivalry could very much apply" (101).


Do this:


Chivalry was a standard of behavior for all of life but was connected to warfare. John Lynn states in Battle: A History of Combat and Culture that "In combat between aristocratic knights, the code of chivalry could very much apply" (101).


It is, after all, polite to introduce people to each other. "Reader, meet John Lynn, author of a book about battle and combat."


After the first introduction, we're all on a chummy, last-name-basis, so you can just call him Lynn. 


Lynn goes on to argue that "Claims that an enemy army displayed cowardice in the field can be an insult or a misperception more than a careful evaluation" (287). 

Cite Your Quotes Correctly!

Use MLA style parenthetical citation.

Prose, like novels or non-fiction, get page numbers, as do modern plays, and any journal article. Just make sure you're very specific later on your Works Cited page about which edition you used, since page numbers can be different from edition to edition. If you used a Kindle, see MLA for how to cite sections. Just put the page number(s) from your quote in parentheses, and you're done. See the John Lynn quote above for an example. Simple.


Poetry gets line numbers. If your edition doesn't give you line numbers in the margin, I'm afraid you'll just have to count them for yourself. Then put the line numbers in parentheses at the end of the quote. Also for poetry, you must separate lines with / marks, unless you have 4 or more lines in a row, in which case you should block quote. This is also true for plays that are in poetic form, like early modern plays by Shakespeare and others. The illustration below shows both: first, a block quote, and then, in the discussion of that quote, lines separated by a mark:





Note that the block quote is double indented, and that it is introduced by "In Cymbeline, the lines are:".


Note also that, for Shakespeare, as for any 5 act play, we do not give page numbers, we give act, scene, and line numbers, and we give them in Arabic numerals. There once was a time when this was done thus (Act V, scene V, lines 559-565), but then MLA realized that was cumbersome and unnecessary, and shortened it to (V.V.559-565), and then realized Roman numerals were not necessary, and so it is now the nice, easy-to-write-and-read (5.5.559-565)


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