He Said, She Said: Quoting and Paraphrasing

A few weeks ago, in the blog “Research: Wading Through Sources” (found here: https://wordpress.com/view/wkuwritingcenter.wordpress.com), I talked about how to choose sources for your paper and to think of your writing as “joining in a conversation” with scholars. Now, I’d like to share some tips for actually integrating those sources. There are a lot of things to cover on this topic, so I’m going to share what you will most likely be using and the areas where I see the most issues in student papers.

For examples, I will be using material from my paper, “The Despair Unto Death in The Death of Ivan Ilych by Leo Tolstoy: A Kierkegaardian Reading.”

How Much to Quote/Paraphrase

Often students fill their papers with too many quotes, especially long ones. This can quickly come across as lazy and a way for the student to reach a certain page count.

According to the University of Iowa’s writing center, “ninety-nine percent of your paper should be in your own words. Quotes help your argument, but cannot substitute for your own original work.” You’ll probably find other percentages. For instance, WriteCheck.com suggests %20 can be quoted/paraphrased material. The main idea is that the majority of your work should be in your own words and ideas.

Introducing Quotes

Another problem I’ve seen is students tossing in a quote here and there with no introduction or commentary.


“In Confession, Tolstoy ‘speaks of spiritual discomfort having grown in him like a disease, at first revealed by transient symptoms but gradually mastering the whole organism,’ and ‘the process is realized in his finest tale of the decade, The Death of Ivan Ilych (1886)’ (Gifford 45). Here, Tolstoy describes his despair as like a disease. This simile is made into metaphor in Ivan Ilych, in which the protagonist suffers an actual illness that represents his internal despair. In this example, I introduce the source (an unpublished fictional work by Tolstoy), and then, after I quote the source, I apply the quote to my argument. It is not usually safe to assume that the reader will know immediately how your quote applies. Even if they do, it is your job to not only provide evidence but to also interpret that evidence.”


You won’t always need a direct quote. In fact, most of the time you will be paraphrasing.


“While Kierkegaard was not well-received in Russia during his own time because of his anti-Hegelian philosophy (Makolkin 2), Hilary Fink writes in an essay comparing Tolstoy’s The Kreutzer Sonata and Kierkegaard’s Either/Or that the Russian author did, in fact, read and admire Kierkegaard (1).”

When paraphrasing, make sure you cite the page numbers where the information came from.


Sometimes you’ll find a lengthy quote that you want to use but find is too long or includes too many irrelevant details. This is where you can use an ellipsis (…) to join pieces of a quote. The ellipsis serves as a bridge between the two (or three or four) sections.


“In a letter to his wife in 1869, Tolstoy writes: ‘…suddenly I was overcome by despair, fear and terror, the like of which I have never experienced before…I’ve never experienced such an agonizing feeling before and may God preserve anyone else from experiencing it’ (Wilson 250).”

Block Quotes

When you quotation is longer than a few lines, it should be blocked. Some specific guidelines exist for blocked quotes that are important to remember.

  1. Quotes must be indented one-half inch
  2. Quotation marks are not used around the quote
  3. The parenthetical citation comes AFTER the period
  4. Quotes are usually introduced with a colon, but sometimes with a comma
  5. Double spacing is maintained

Example: (Because of the format of this blog, this example is in single space with extra spaces before and after the block quote. In an actual paper, the whole thing will be double spaced.)

“In Kierkegaard, despair is the ‘sickness unto death.’ He writes:

The torment of despair is precisely the inability to die…Thus to be sick unto death is to be unable to die, yet not as though there were hope of life. No, the hopelessness is that even the last hope, death, is gone…It is in this latter sense, then, that despair is the sickness unto death, this tormenting contradiction, this sickness in the self; eternally to die, to die and yet not to die, to die death itself. (48)

“To despair unto to death, then, is to be ill in spirit and to desire to cease existing.”

Integrated Quotes

An integrated quote is simply a quote that flows from a sentence in your own words, and I have already used this example many times in this blog. To integrate a quote, it is important to make sure that they are consistent with the grammatical progression of your sentence. This some times takes altering the quote, which I explain next.


“Ivan was ‘an intelligent, polished, lively and agreeable man’ (256), who married because it ‘gave him personal satisfaction, and at the same time it was considered the right thing by the most highly placed of his associates’ (259).”

Altering Quotes

To alter a quote, you can use ellipses as mentioned before, but you can also change words by putting them in brackets. This is especially useful if the quote you are using is not in the same tense as your sentence or if you want to specify something that is not clear in the sentence.


“At this time, ‘Tolstoy [became] something more than a writer: he [became] a religious leader, sage, a modern prophet’ (165).

“Because of these differences, Kierkegaard ‘searches for the absolute in the eternal world which is really the absolute world, a world without the limitations of place and time, a world without beginning and end, while [Tolstoy] searches for the absolute in this temporal world which is a relative and finite world’ (502).”

Quotes Within Quotes 

Finally, note that, in the last example, I used singular quotations (‘…’) when quoting within my own quotation. This is the standard for quotes within quotes. If the author you are quoting mentions a title of a short work, for instance, you would put it in singular quotations.



Works Cited

Fink, Hilary. “Tolstoy’s The Kreutzer’s Sonata and the Kierkegaardian “Either/Or.”

Canadian-American Slavic Studies 36:1-2 (2002): 7-18. Brill Online Books and Journals.

Web. 18 March 2016.

Gifford, Henry. Tolstoy. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1982. Print.

Kierkegaard, Soren. The Sickness Unto Death. Trans. Alastair Hannay. Great Britain:

Penguin Classics, 1989. Print.

Makolkin, Anna. “Russian, Stalinist and Soviet Re-Readings of Kierkegaard: Lev Shestov

and Piama Gaidenko.” Canadian Slavonic Papers 44.1 (2002): 79-96. ProQuest. Web. 19

Mar. 2016.

“Paraphrases and Quotes.” University of Iowa, https://clas.uiowa.edu/history/teaching-

and- writing-center/ guides/paraphrases-and-quotes. Accessed 11 October 2017.

Tolstoy, Leo. “The Death of Ivan Ilych.” Tolstoy, Leo. Great Short Works of Leo Tolstoy.

New York: Harper and Row, Publishers, 1967. 245-303. Print.

Wilson, A. N. Tolstoy: A Biography. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1988. Print.

“Writing Tip #20: How much of my paper can be quotes?” WriteCheck, 16 January 2013,


be- quotes.


Documentation and formatting

Sometimes, citation style and formatting can seem like the most daunting – and the most tedious – part of writing a research paper. Following guidelines about margin sizes, cover pages, and detailed citations can seem like stuffy, academic nonsense and a waste of time for a paper that is most likely only going to be read by your professor. Though it is true that these details are secondary to content, they are not just torture devices designed by your professor to make you suffer and give them something to laugh about with other professors in the faculty lounge: there are actual, legitimate reasons for following these rules and learning appropriate style techniques.

Avoiding plagiarism is the most frequently discussed reason for following citation guidelines. Most of your professors have probably talked to you about this, so I won’t go into excruciating detail and give you a speech you’ve already heard. It’s pretty simple: you have to give credit where credit is due. Not giving your sources credit is stealing. It’s cheating. Don’t do it.

But why use these standard, field-specific styles? Why not just write a note at the end of your paper that tells where you got your information?

When you write a research paper, what you are essentially doing is entering into an academic conversation about the topic you’ve chosen (or been assigned) to address. You’re communicating what you understand about a given subject to an audience, and possibly pointing out something new about a topic that no one has thought of before. Proper documentation of the resources from which you gained your knowledge backs up your point; sloppy or incorrect documentation hurts your credibility (and your grade).

Documentation/citation styles are, much like grammar, or written music, or Latin classifications of plant and animal life (there is, I’m sure, a fancier word for this, but I’m not a biology major), codes that exist within a group – in this case, an academic field – to help people communicate. When you as a writer don’t follow these guidelines, your credibility is hurt. You and your audience have entered into an agreement to use these means to talk about this subject, and you’ve broken that agreement. Oops.

Now that you’re committed to learning and following style and citation guidelines, there is one obvious problem: they can be hard to master. They’re complicated. They’re technical. Lucky for you, there’s also an obvious answer!

We here at the WKU Writing Center really want to help you! As students of English and writing, we’re well versed in MLA style and documentation guidelines, but we’re also familiar with APA and other styles. If you bring in something we’re not familiar with, we can figure it out together.

It’s also important to note that we writing tutors, just like you, are only human. I look up details about MLA style nearly every time I write a paper. Almost no one has this stuff memorized – if you do, I want to know your secret. A really great resource for information about documentation style is the Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL). This website has lots of helpful information about both MLA and APA documentation – I use it pretty much every time I have to cite something – and lots of other nifty writing tips as well.

Happy writing!


This post was originally published on October 17, 2013.

What’s all the hoot about? Why we recommend the Purdue Owl

You might have heard of the Purdue OWL, or Online Writing Lab, from your tutor, your professor, and your especially studious friends.  So what’s with all the fuss about this website?

Simply put, The Purdue OWL is one of the best and most comprehensive guides to writing English papers ever made, online or otherwise.  You need help with the ever-changing MLA format? The Owl’s got that. Confused by comma rules? Yeah, they got that covered.

Speaking in a more serious manner, The Purdue OWL talks about complicated issues like MLA citation in a clear and readable way. They have great diagrams and interactive memory tools that are especially made for college students’ use.  We might have other blog entries covering more specific tools in the OWL, but until then, explore The Purdue OWL on your own. Be warned, though, like TV Tropes, the OWL can be addictive.  Don’t blame us if you spend way too much time reading about commas… Enjoy!

Happy Writing,

This was originally posted on November 3, 2011.