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When to quote rather than paraphrase

Do you worry about when to use direct quotations in your Arts or Humanities essay? Quoting profusely can make your work seem fragmented; your voice can become lost. But when done well, quoting can enhance your work. Here are some reasons to use direct quotes.

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1 For accuracy

Quote when you’re referring to a text, such as a poem, play or historical document. It is also helpful to quote if paraphrasing (rewriting in your own words) might make your work less concise. Choose the direct quote carefully, using only the words that make your point. The quotation should make your writing more precise.

In his essay ‘Politics and the English Language’, George Orwell asserts that ‘The great enemy of clear language is insincerity’ (2013, p.15).[1]

2 For authority

Quote to add strength to your assertion or weight to your argument, for example, when the source is authoritative or eminent:

Hermione Lee, Fitzgerald’s biographer, describes how the themes of Offshore reflect a period of uncertainty in her subject’s life. The novel, she says, ‘performs a balancing act between being enclosed and being at risk, between comic lightness and tragic depth, between the short term and the long haul’ (Lee, 2013, p.148).[2]

3 For style

Use a quotation to draw attention to the striking language or phrasing of the author:

Patricia Williams challenges traditions of objectivity not just in her subject, but also in her style, which is defiantly personal and insistent. The lack of a documented past, she says, is ‘too unsustaining, too spontaneously ahistorical, too dangerously malleable in the hands of those who would rewrite not merely the past but my future as well’ (Williams, 1988, p.5).[3]

Cherise Saywell
22 April 2021

[1] Orwell, George (2013). Politics and the English Language. London: Penguin

[2] Lee, Hermione (2013). Penelope Fitzgerald, A Life. London: Chatto & Windus

[3] Williams, Patricia J. (1988) ‘On Being the Object of Property’. Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 14 (1), pp.5–24



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