Sunday, December 07, 2008

Quote With Caution: Leading and Following

With my development students feverishly working on their final drafts, I want to take some time passing on some writing advice. Today we discuss quoting.

While I've mentioned it before, it's worth repeating. There's only two reasons to quote: (a) convincing the reader that someone believes something (usually something the quoted may not freely admit) and (b) repeating an idea illustrated so well, you can't possibly say it better.

But knowing when to quote is not the same as knowing how to quote. I've witnessed many papers where the writer will quote without comment. Their lead in will be bland and their follow up will be nonexistent. I read phrases such as "Paul Collier says," "Jared Diamond writes," "William Easterly argues," with barely a hint of what they are going to say.

Instead, try something more tailored. Paraphrase the author's idea in the context of the subject of the paper. Then, indicate to the reader why you are bothering to quote. (i.e. "Friedman said it best: 'If you put the federal government in charge of the Sahara Desert, in 5 years there'd be a shortage of sand.'")

Other times, the writer will quote and simply move on. If you going to bother quoting, add context to the quotation. Comment on it (but don't repeat yourself from the lead in). Reference an idea or phrase from within the quote and connect it back to your paper. Quotes are supposed to complement your writing, not replace it.

No comments: