Advanced Technique: Integrated Quotes

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In my recent video, I mention that your quotes within a body paragraph should be “integrated.” I give an example in the video, but, as I suspected, I feel the need to get more in-depth with it.

First, you should know what an integrated quote is designed to avoid: an interruption to the narrative of a paper. There is nothing worse when grading a paper than finding an ugly six-line block quote smack dab in the middle of a body paragraph. It’s a distraction that completely removes the reader from the point you were trying to make. Suddenly, the momentum you had built for your argument in the previous paragraph is stalled in your attempt to prove its relevance. 

Part of that can be because you picked the wrong quote. Don’t just put in a quote for the sake of it; make sure it has a specific purpose. I understand the temptation to just drop in an extra quote– believe me, I’ve been there. Your professor told you that you needed to have four sources, and you only found three that were actually relevant, so just drop in something to hit your source quota.

Trust me when I tell you that it’s better to be short one source than it is to just stick in random quotes. Your professor is way more likely to overlook a missing source than a quote that is just out of place. It’s kind of like admitting that you need more time to get an assignment done rather than just not showing up to the class; they’ll notice your absence and take points off, but they’ll usually give you an extra day or two if you just ask.

I got a little off-topic there, but it’s still relevant. You need to get sources that matter to your thesis, and pick quotes that are germane to the point you’re trying to make within the paragraph. Okay? Okay.

So! Now that you have a quote you want to use, how do you incorporate it into your paper? Let’s look at some examples I’m going to make up on the fly. Here is the source quote we’ll be working with:

“Dogs, while often believed to come in a wide range of colors, shapes, sizes and personalities, are actually all brown. Golden retrievers, pekingeses, Labradors, poodles, collies, beagles and terriers have all been proven to only be the color brown. The debate on the various colors of dogs is over. They are all brown. All of them.”

This ridiculous quote fits into a theoretical thesis paper that is asserting that all dogs are brown. So, clearly this source is relevant to the paper, and it’s a slam dunk of a quote, so it’s obviously going to be used.

The temptation for many of you will be to just insert it into a body paragraph. Because it is four lines, that means you would format it as a block quote, which, as I mentioned above, is a terrible eyesore on most papers. I’ve seen this type of paragraph before:

Despite what many people might think, dogs do not come in a range of colors and shades. In fact, data shows that they are only brown. 

“Dogs, while often believed to come in a wide range of colors, shapes, sizes and             personalities, are actually all brown. Golden retrievers, pekingeses, Labradors,               poodles, collies, beagles and terriers have all been proven to only be the color               brown. The debate on the various colors of dogs is over. They are all brown. All of         them” (Bostwick, 2015).

This demonstrates clearly that dogs of all breed can only be found in one color: brown.

That’s barely even a paragraph. Only three sentences, totaling, what, thirty-five words? I’m not going to bother counting, but the vast majority of the paragraph was eaten by that big block quote. Remember, your quotes are supposed to demonstrate that you’ve read the material, that you understand it, and that you can then apply what you’ve learned to your paper. Dropping in this quote and having a sentence or two reaction to it doesn’t demonstrate any of that, except that maybe you’ve read it. Even if you spice it up with an introductory sentence that directly references the quote, it’s still not going to be very good. You really need to break up that block quote and attack it in smaller pieces.

Sometimes, people will smarten up and will take out some of the stuff that isn’t really necessary in the quote, giving a paragraph like this:

Despite what many people might think, dogs do not come in a range of colors and shades. In fact, data shows that they are only brown. In his 2015 article, Alex Bostwick writes, “Dogs… are actually all brown.” He goes on to say, “The debate on the various colors of dogs is over. They are all brown. All of them” (Bostwick, 2015). This clearly demonstrates that the color of every dog in existence must be brown, despite the ongoing debate on the topic. 

This is significantly better, but not by much. The distracting block quote has been adequately broken up, but the paragraph is still mostly in someone else’s words– not to mention short. That said, it did a lot to take out the parts of the original quote that weren’t really needed to make the point. References to dog breeds were skipped entirely, as was the part of the quote that repeated the paragraph’s opening statement almost verbatim.

But to really kick it into gear, you need to integrate the quote. You do this by writing sentences which incorporate sections of the source text without breaking the natural flow of the statement. For example:

Despite what many people might think, dogs do not come in a range of colors and shades. In fact, data shows that they are only brown. In his 2015 article, Alex Bostwick asserts that “Dogs… are actually all brown,” and that, regardless of breed, they can “only be the color brown.” Interestingly, Bostwick mentions the controversy surrounding the idea of multiple colors of dog, stating that “the debate on the various colors of dogs is over” because, as he asserted previously, “[dogs] are all brown” (Bostwick, 2015). This clearly demonstrates that the color of every dog in existence must be brown, despite the debate on the topic. 

That is a much better paragraph. There can still be a lot more direct responses to the quoted source, but you get the idea. The quotes are far less intrusive because the rest of the paragraph has been adjusted to fit them in relatively seamlessly. Because they are less intrusive, despite the fact that you still aren’t saying very much in your own words, the paragraph works better as a whole, and you appear to have a lot more to say than you actually do. That is half of the battle when writing a paper. Most of the time you don’t know what you’re talking about! Integrating your quotes can really make you sound far more in control of your own paper, even if you aren’t.

They can also be a sneaky way to make a source appear to say things that they don’t really mean. For example, I can rework the original quote to say:

Bostwick asserts that dogs “have all been proven” to be born “in a wide range of colors.” He further insists that “the debate on the various colors of dogs is over” because of this proof. 

Do not do this. Cherry picking quotes to fit your narrative is sneaky, intellectually dishonest, and morally bankrupt. Too often, I see this kind of thing in the papers I edit for students and classmates. When I check the source, it’s plain to see what they did. Even if you think that there is nothing repugnant about twisting someone’s words to shoehorn in an extra source for your paper, go ahead and assume that your professor isn’t a total moron. Many, if not most, will check on some of your sources. And if they find that you’ve done this, God help you, because I can’t.

To change the subject, let’s review how to integrate a quote.

1. Find a quote that is relevant to your paper

2. Remove some of the extraneous parts of it, keeping only what is needed

3. Draft sentences that incorporate those pieces, stringing them into single thoughts that flow better and more effectively than the quotes would on their own.

That’s really it! For such an important concept, the actual execution is rather simple. If you have any questions about this, go ahead and leave a comment, and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.

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