Talkin' Shop: Teaching Direct Quotation

I'm doing a nuts-and-bolts topoi approach to direct quotation today, and I thought I would share my brief overlay. I'm also interested in how other people approach the subject.

In class today we are going to focus on incorporating direct quotations into writing. Essentially, I consider quotes a 4 part process. There's the signal, the quote, the summary, and the analysis. While we'll be using this specifically for direct quotes today and this weekend, this is essentially the undelrying structure for most academic-argumentative paragraphs: a claim, followed by evidence, and analysis. The signal works to create ethos for the source: the source itself can either present logos or pathos (similarly, you can react to sources in the vein of logos or pathos).

  • Signal: who, what, where, when. Note that what/where can be a reference to a kind of media [article, book, poem, website, blog post], a genre [sonnet, dialogue, operational manual], or location/event [press conference, reporting from the steps of the White House]
  • Quote: in-line citations use quotation marks and are generally three lines or less. Block citations do not use quotation marks and are indented from the rest of the text.
  • Summary: especially for block quotations, you need to reduce a block of text to a single-line.
  • Analysis: Reaction, counter-argument, point to similar situation, offer further information, use the bridge, "in order to appreciate X's argument, it helps to know about/explore/etc

Here's an example; let's say I was writing a blog on the struggles of newspapers to survive the digital transition, I might want to point to the October 15th, 2009 NYT's article dealing with the Times Co. decision to hold on to the Boston Globe.

In his recent article, Richard Perez-Pena explains that the Times Co. has decided to hold onto the Boston Globe, at least for now. Perez-Pena explains that the Times Co. has been trying to sell the newspaper for the past month, but, since it hasn't received what it deems a credible offer, it has decided to pull the paper off the market. He writes:

Dan Kennedy, a journalism professor at Northeastern University who has closely followed The Globe’s troubles, said it might be better for The Globe to remain with the Times Company than to go to a new owner that might do more cutting or replace top executives. “But the company has its work cut out for it in terms of rebuilding credibility with the employees and the community,” he said.

Perez-Pena explains that the Times Co. has been involved in bitter labor disputes over the past year, as advertising revenues continue to fall: this move, as Kennedy notes above, could be a solid first move in rebuilding an important relationship with one of America's oldest, and most significant, newspapers. However, I think we still need to be a bit skeptical here: the fact that no one even proposed a reasonable offer for a newspaper that only 15 years ago commanded 1 billion dollars, the highest price ever for a single newspaper (Perez-Pena), does not bode well for the future of the industry. Like many newspapers, the Globe was slow to adapt to the digitalization of America's infosphere. Time will tell if recent efforts are too little too late.

If you look above, I first contextualize the quote--not only supplying where/when/who it came from, but also providing some sense of what the whole article discusses. Then I focus attention toward a particular point and supply the quote. After the quote, I first reiterate what the quote said (providing a bit of new information). This is an important step that a lot of writers skip. Always make sure you summarize a quote, so a reader knows precisely what you think it says. Then, in the final part of the paragraph above, I analyze the material. I respond to it. In this particular case, I am somewhat critical of the optimism that underlies Perez-Pena's piece.

A few other small points:

  • Notice the first time I reference an author, I use there first and last name. After that, it is sufficient to only use the last name.
  • Notice that I don't have a citation after the direct quotation: the reason here is that it is obvious where the quote came from thanks to my signal. This is an electronic source, so there is no page number citation, were it a print source I would have to include that. NEVER USE A PAGE NUMBER IN THE SIGNAL TEXT.
  • Notice in my analysis that I make a parenthetical to the author--its because I pulled the price of the Globe purchase in 1993 from his article. I don't directly quote it, so no quotation marks.
  • Finally, there's two kinds of quotations, in-line quotations and block quotations. Each have there own rules for academic papers (the dreaded MLA and APA guidelines). We will deal with those later in the course. In terms of blogging: quotes longer than 4 lines need to be blockquoted. Blogger has a button to help you do this. Blockquotes don't receive quotation marks.


Casey said...

Just for contrast, I do it as a three part process: top-frame, quote, bottom-frame...

I like and understand (and implicitly teach) your distinction between summary and analysis, but sometimes I think there are quotes that don't need to be summarized -- the writer can just move directly to summary in that case.

Minor point, obviously. Interesting stuff, ey?

Insignificant Wrangler said...

Yeah, I encourage summary with undergrads because often I find that they provide a really long passage and expect the reader to just "get it." I think its important for them to direct a reader's attention. But some of my more sophisticated students will learn to summarize the quote in what you call the top-frame. That works too.

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