Citing Textual Evidence: Strategies & Examples

Instructor: Ivy Roberts

Ivy Roberts is an adjunct instructor in English, film/media studies and interdisciplinary studies.

This lesson will show you how to avoid plagiarism by citing sources. We will look at several reasons why writers use quotes and how to integrate explicit evidence into an argument. Then, we will explore formats, footnotes, and bibliographies.

Why Use Quotation Marks?

You may have seen people making the hand gesture like bunny ears. These air quotes are meant to show that the speaker is quoting another person. While it might be considered a pretentious thing to do, there's a reason why people keep on making these bunny ears.

Take a moment to brainstorm about the phrases you often hear repeated in everyday life. Some examples might include lines from Shakespeare, movie dialogue, or recognizable phrases from important historical figures.

  • ''A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.''
  • ''Here's looking at you, kid.''
  • ''Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.''

Quotation Marks
quotation marks

These are all instances of citation, or the act of quoting another person's words. In everyday life, your audience will likely recognize the words as quotations. Can you name the authors and sources of each of these quotations? If not, it'll be important to include a reference so that your audience can identify the phrase as a quotation and not as as original thought.

In the event that an author fails to cite their sources, they will be reprimanded for plagiarism, a serious offense in academia. Plagiarism, whether inadvertent or not, is defined as using someone else's words as your own. This can lead to serious consequences such as expulsion from school, your work being discredited, and sometimes legal action.

Why Do Authors Cite Sources?

So if plagiarism is such a hot topic, then why do writers bother with quoting other authors anyway?

There are two reasons why your writing would benefit from citing sources.

First, writers rely on the groundwork others have already contributed to a discussion. By drawing on these sources, you show your familiarity with the existing discussion of your topic. Sometimes these other authors have stated the problem in a particularly eloquent way that cannot be summarized or paraphrased.

Say for example you're writing about the Declaration of Independence. You will most likely want to quote its famous passage: ''We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.'' Everybody knows it, but your readers would benefit from a reminder of the exact phrasing. By quoting that opening passage you can show readers the eloquence that the founding fathers imbued into their text. In this case, quoting the important historical document works to your benefit.

Declaration of Independence
declaration of independence

Second, writers cite sources to extend your original contribution to the discussion. Citing explicit evidence strengthens and supports your argument. This often comes in the form of direct quotations. Using explicit evidence raises your writing above simple opinion to the level of a legitimate argument. Citing evidence grounds your argument in facts.

Say for example you're discussing the Fourth Amendment. Your purpose for writing has to do with comparing the Founding Fathers' thoughts on individual rights with contemporary interpretations. Contrast the Fourth Amendment with the PATRIOT Act (2001) by quoting the documents.

The fourth amendment to the constitution secures the ''right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.'' According to contemporary interpretations, however, the PATRIOT Act revises or infringes upon these rights. Add additional quotes from contemporary politicians to explain the pros and cons of the revision. By drawing on these previous works, you can show readers that you understand the core principles involved in both documents.

Examples and Format

There are three main types of citation formatting: MLA (Modern Language Association), APA (American Psychological Association), and Chicago Styles. Humanities scholars use MLA, APA is used in the Social Sciences, and the Chicago Style bridges both schools.

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