Reading & Writing Across Curriculum

Discussing Quotations

For many papers in this class and in other college classes, you will need to include and discuss quotations.  Paragraphs centering around discussion of quotes need to give very good explanations of the quote and what you will say about it.  You should never allow a quote to speak for itself; you must clearly make a point about each quote you use.  The following is a basic formula for a paragraph that analyzes a quote.  While you may vary the formula, it is a good idea to try to have the following elements in your paragraph:

1 a topic sentence that tells the main point you'll make in the paragraph
2 some background information about the quote so that the reader is not at all confused about what the quote means
3 an explanation of the argument you are making about the quote (if you don't include this first, your readers will need to re-read the quote later once you make your point)
4 a signal phrase that names the author or speaker of the quote, e.g. Shakespeare writes or Hamlet says
5 the quote, with quotation marks and a parenthetical page citation.  You should provide enough of the quote that it makes sense, but don't put in more than you can discuss.  One or two sentences is generally a good quote length.
6 a paraphrase of the quote (putting it in your own words) right after you present it to make sure readers understood the quote in the same way you did
7 A few sentences explaining your point about the quote, why you draw that conclusion about the quote, and how that quote supports your essay’s thesis
8 a final sentence reminding readers of your paragraph's main point


Example: The following example, from a research paper on Satan worship, follows the above model.  Note that, although the main point is repeated several times, the paragraph does not sound repetitive.  This repetition is necessary to make sure the reader understands the quote and your point about it. Each of the numbered elements above is marked in the paragraph below.

1. Satanism often provides an outlet for the negative emotions experienced by abused or neglected young people.  2. Timothy Zeddies argues in "Adolescent Satanism" that abused teens are particularly prone to adopting Satanic philosophies.  In his article, Zeddies discusses several examples of teenage psychiatric patients who choose Satanism as a means to express their negative feelings.  3. He argues that Satanism celebrates the angry emotions experienced by these teenagers: 4. Zeddies explains, 5."Satanism is both liberating and familiar. It allows them to express and receive validation for their rage and hatred toward authority figures who have abused, neglected, betrayed, or abandoned them" (24).  6. Zeddies claims that angry teenagers feel comforted by the angry and dark spirit of Satanic cults.  7. This argument contradicts common stereotypes of Satanic teenagers as evil or malicious people.  While we often think of Satanism as a conscious choice of evil over good, Zeddies' argument demonstrates that this practice reflects deep feelings of powerlessness and betrayal experienced after years of abuse.  His analysis could give us a more sympathetic view of this unusual and maligned religion. 8.  Rather than viewing Satan-worshippers as dangerous others, we could sympathize with the pain that led them to Satanism.


You can use our Discussing Quotations Worksheet to write your own paragraph following this model. Print the page and follow the instructions.

This page was created by Karin Spirn.

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Page last modified: May 13, 2016