When to quote…?

A few of us NT Postgrads are helping to teach seminars for the undergrad students here at Durham and part of our responsibilities involve marking essays (3000 words in length each).  As we are working with first year undergrads, they have not written a great number of research essays.  So, having marked the autumn term essays we were asked to have a review session with our students (we each work with small groups) and offer feedback and advice about essay writing.

I wrote down some thoughts for my students, and one area that needed some refining was in terms of when and why to quote a source.  Daniel Hawk (Ashland Theological Seminary) once told me that it takes more intelligence to paraphrase a source (and cite it) than to quote it, because then you have to show that you actually understood the quote (here I am paraphrasing Hawk, not quoting him)!  But, we still quote sometimes, don’t we?  Why?  Are there ‘rules’?  Or does it just seem to be more of an art?  Well, I like rules. So I tried to come up with some reasons why people quote:

1. The quotation is particularly well-written, articulate, or poetic: There are just some writers who can say something in such a beautiful way (such as, perhaps, C.S. Lewis).

2. The quotation is well-known or representative of a viewpoint: so, E.P. Sanders’ oft-cited conclusion: ‘In short, this is what Paul finds wrong with Judaism: it is not Christianity.‘ – a statement known ’round the world.

3. The quotation is particularly shocking or given for effect (this has similarities to #1)
4. The quotation, or author of it, is being studied in detail and for accuracy purposes it is important to get information straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak: So Vanhoozer’s study of Ricoeur would fall into this category.

5. The author of the quotation is an authority on the matter and giving a quotation of such a person strengthens the argument (this has some similarities to #2).

OK, so those are some of the thoughts I came up with just thinking about my own use of quotations.  Did I miss any obvious ones?  I made this post specifically for the purpose of getting anyone to offer more possible common uses of quotations.


7 thoughts on “When to quote…?

  1. Hi Nijay,

    I suppose another instance would be when you want to stress that an author really believes something. Then, it is often sufficient to through in a few quoted words in a citation, in order to ‘highlight’ a specific thought. Example:

    Dr X believes this is very important, and he encourages us to ‘reflect deeply’ on the matter before proceeding…

  2. I’d agree with doug, but I always did the opposite. I would summarize so that I could keep my paper within the expected length.

  3. Doug, I think you need to sit in on one of my review sessions. I award you a 2:2 for your answer, but I will put a star on your essay for honesty… 🙂

  4. If another author had a throw-away comment that inspired your study or an aspect of it, then the comment should be quoted. For instance, in Craigie’s commentary on Psalm 19 he made a comment about how it connects interestingly with Genesis 1-3. This inspired me to write an entire study in which I tried to argue for intertextuality between the two texts. Thus I quoted Craige fully.

  5. Hey Nijay, while we’re on the subject of writing and style… What style guide are you using? Are you writing “English-English” or American?

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