Providing Context: Making The Most of Sources

By Edwin Tran

“Quotation, n. The act of repeating erroneously the words of another.”

This lonesome quote has the capacity to elicit a variety of responses. One might be shocked by the bluntness of the statement, while another might react with opposition to the quote’s message. One consistent reaction however is confusion and incredulity. A plethora of common questions might have appeared. Who spoke this quote? What is the context of this quote? Is the author credible? In what sort of publication was this quote used in? The issue of plopping a quote down by itself is that these sort of questions are not answered, and inadvertently spark bewilderment. When using quotes, there are several aspects that should be touched on in order to utilize quotes successfully and effectively.

Embed the quote.

The quote should never be left on its own. Doing so leaves out important pieces of information crucial for a successful quote. By embedding the quote within a sentence, one is able to introduce the quote in an elegant and cohesive manner, while establishing the context and credibility of the quote. Examples of this are provided in the following sections.

Context must be provided before using a quote.

When trying to introduce a quote, establishing the context behind the quote is important. If one doesn’t understand who said the quote, when, and for what purpose, then the effectiveness of the quote is lessened. When used correctly, a quote’s context can help to build on a paper’s ideas and may help establish further evidence for a paper’s claim. Let’s take a look at an example:

Pretend a student is writing a paper on the history of satire.

“Quotation, n. The act of repeating erroneously the words of another.”

By itself, the quote means little to the reader. We don’t know why the quote is there, or how it relates to the subject. Let’s add some context.

Indeed, Ambrose Bierce in his 1911 satirical book, The Devil’s Dictionary, defines quotation as “Quotation, n. The act of repeating erroneously the words of another.”

Establishing this context has now shown the relation between the quote and the paper.

Establishing the author’s credibility is crucial in using a quote.

While the above example is great in providing context, it does a poor job at letting readers know why Ambrose Bierce is a credible source. He may just be a crazy lunatic rambling in a personal book. He may be the smartest mind in the world. Providing the reader with an author’s credibility is thus key, and examples of this idea of credibility include job title, position, scholarly work, etc. Let’s try establishing Bierce’s credibility down below.

Indeed, American author and editor Ambrose Bierce in his 1911 satirical book, The Devil’s Dictionary, defines quotation as “Quotation, n. The act of repeating erroneously the words of another.”

Now we see that Bierce’s isn’t just some crazy wilderness man from Alaska, but is in reality an author and editor. He is someone who has experience in the field of writing, and has the positions to back it up. His word is for the most part trustworthy because we have established the credentials he has.

Overall, these are the main things to keep in mind while integrating quotes. While there are more nuances and smaller points that are related to this, these three directives are important, and help in the effective use of quotes.

Work Cited

Bierce, Ambrose. “The Devil’s Dictionary.” American Studies at the University of Virginia. University of Virginia, n.d. Web. 22 June 2016.

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