Quoting from other material

June 8, 2012

(adapted from a ‘Writing Tip’ email I recently sent to work colleagues)


Bottom line:

  • Type the words exactly as written.
  • There are always exceptions to any ‘rule’!

Q: Can I change case in quoted text?

A: Not usually

‘C’ asked if she could change the case of some terms in a quoted piece of text so that the case matched what we used. The quote had the phrase ‘non-indigenous species and marine pests’; however, we use ‘Non-indigenous Species and Marine Pests’ in our documents to regulators as those terms have specific meaning under the Ministerial conditions of approval and possibly in one or more Acts of Parliament.

I asked ‘C’ where the quoted text was from and she said it was from one of the regulatory authorities. This emphasised to me that we SHOULDN’T change the case – this document has to go back to that regulatory authority for approval, and the last thing we want is for someone in the regulator’s office to pick up on this minor technicality and hold up the approvals process as a result. In this case, it was critical to know where the quote had come from and where the document was ultimately to go – it wasn’t just an easy yes/no answer about changing case.

I also consulted the Australian Style Manual, where p113 had this note in the sidebar: ‘Accurate quotation: Great care must be taken to quote the work of another writer exactly.’

Q: What about changing spelling in quoted text?

A: Rarely, if ever

If you are quoting text with US spelling, the same convention applies – leave it as it is and do not change it to Australian spelling, as the quote is verbatim from the originating (US) author. For example, we refer to the ‘Risk Prioritization Matrix’ as it originates from the US and has that spelling in its title.

Q: What about changing punctuation in quoted text?

A: Rarely, if ever

Adding commas, semicolons, full stops, etc. to quoted text (or removing them) can change the meaning substantially, so we don’t touch those either.

Q: Does quoted text have to be in quote marks?

A: It depends on the length of the quoted piece

It depends…

  • Short (i.e. fewer than three lines of quoted text): Do not italicise short quotes – just surround the quoted text with single quote marks (convention used in the Australian Style Manual, which is our authority for such things).
  • Long (i.e. more than three lines): Set the quotation in its own indented paragraph, apply italics, but do not use quote marks.

Q: How do I omit some words from a quotation if they aren’t necessary to what I’m writing about?

A: Use an ellipsis ( … )

Despite the ‘rule’ to quote exactly, there are exceptions. For example, you can leave out words, phrases, even whole paragraphs from a piece of quoted text if those words etc. aren’t necessary to make your point. However, you can’t change the meaning of the quoted text when you omit such words (e.g. you can’t omit a word like ‘not’ without changing the meaning – ‘do not’ is the opposite to ‘do’).

You must also let the reader know that there are bits missing. You do this by using an ellipsis, which is a space, followed by three dots, followed by another space (i.e. … ). For example:

‘The results … suggest that Flatback Turtles may not travel to a single … foraging ground at the end of their breeding migration and that some may … forage in a range of areas before returning to … nest …’

(The original was: ‘The results also suggest that Flatback Turtles may not travel to a single (presumed) foraging ground at the end of their breeding migration and that some may in fact forage in a range of areas before returning to [location removed] to nest the following season.’

Q: How do I show that words have been changed or added to quoted text?

A: Surround the changes with square brackets

Even though the ‘rule’ is to quote exactly, sometimes the original author gets it wrong. For example, in one of the Ministerial Conditions documents, they incorrectly wrote ‘Marine Offloading Facility’ instead of ‘Materials Offloading Facility’, which they had used elsewhere throughout the document. If your quote needed to include that phrase, then you could correct it by surrounding the replacement word with square brackets: i.e. ‘the [Materials] Offloading Facility’.

You also use square brackets around words you’ve added to quoted text to clarify meaning; e.g. ‘The impacts [to marine fauna] from noise and vibration emissions are predicted to be limited to behavioural disturbances.’


See also:

[Link last checked September 2012]

One comment

  1. […] Quoting from other material (cybertext.wordpress.com) […]

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