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  Tips for Writers by Brad Hyde (October 29, 2005)

Using Quotations in Answers

Quotation should take up no more than 20% of total words in an answer. As a rule, quote the few relevant words  rather than the whole sentence from which the words come.

To introduce a quotation, remember to “orient” your reader. To orient is to show the direction of your comments and their source.

RULE: Don’t ever leave a sentence of quotation all by itself in your answers. One small exception: you use a colon and introduce a whole, relevant sentence.

RULE: Check your use of tense when you refer to stories before handing in. Teachers will be affected by your misuse of tense and other “writing problems” in their evaluation. Normally, literature is referred to using the present tense. Exceptions come when it is necessary to refer to various actions that occur at different times in any work.


Here are some student examples from a recent assignment with comments to follow each one:

When Margot describes the sun by saying, “It’s like a fire in the stove,” the children don’t believe her.

Comment: This is a quote to support a discussion on conflict, so the two sides are clear and the origin of the quote is also clear. Be aware that the comment for this quote follows.


Margot’s excellence becomes the “biggest crime.”

Comment: The student is writing about the character of Margot and names a trait, “excellence,” in the discussion. The sentence is short and to the point.


When her friends try to lock her in the closet, “she was protesting, pleading and crying,” and tries with all her might to free herself.

Comment: Another quote to identify a conflict and also a trait of Margot. A few students fell into a trap with direct characterization


Margot is shunned by friends because she is “from Earth” and “remembered the sun.”

Comment: The student is discussing conflict; however, it’s not always necessary to quote. For bits of information that are basic facts, feel free to paraphrase rather than quote.


For example, when William asks her the question, “What’re you looking at?” she doesn’t say a word.

Comment: This is mainly to show her character. It also is using a conflict situation and the character’s reaction to it to make the point about character.


Her first weakness, timidity, appears when she reads her poem “in a quiet voice”; from that point her antagonist, William, starts teasing her.

Comment: The student’s comment is clear from the beginning and supported a four-word quote. Following, the student uses the semicolon to comment further on the importance of the trait as it applies to the plot (conflicts; antagonists) of the story.


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