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Avoiding “Hit and Run” Quotations Part 2: A Practical Demonstration


In the previous entry, I went over some tips and guidelines for avoiding “hit and run” quotations. As promised, in this second part I will demonstrate how you can put these tips into practice. Let us first imagine a scenario in which we are writing an essay arguing that Charles Darwin’s theories of evolution are not threatening to Christian beliefs.

We come across an essay, “Was Charles Darwin and Atheist?” by John van Wyhe, which argues that Darwin may not have been as much an atheist as people sometimes think, and we want to use it to support our argument.

What to Quote?

We could pull a number of passages from van Whye’s article to support our point. The important thing is that we pick a passage that we feel confident about so that we can work it in clearly and discuss it intelligently. For the sake of example, I have selected the following quotation to use:

“Darwin, it was believed, had simply discovered a new law of nature designed by God.”

I will elaborate on my own reasoning for selecting this quotation as I discuss in the next sections how to integrate it.

Direct Quotation or Paraphrase?

The above quotation follows a lengthy discussion of how Darwin’s contemporaries received his ideas. We do not need to repeat van Whye’s original wording verbatim, though, as that would likely break the flow of our own essay and then bore or confuse our readers.

We should thus paraphrase enough of the original language to provide context for our selected quotation, which is the main point we want the reader to absorb.

Cuing the Reader

Since we are using this quotation as an expert opinion to support our own argument, we must first set up van Whye’s credentials. Then, after establishing context through paraphrase as we just discussed, we can then integrate the quotation using a lead-in phrase.

In this case, I will use the paraphrase as part of the lead-in, but you can see other examples in the previous post. Finally, remember to explain the importance of the quotation afterwards. The finished example might look like this:

An essay by John van Whye, a Senior Lecturer at the National University of Singapore and author of four books on Darwin, supports my point that Darwin’s theory of evolution does not threaten Christianity. In his second paragraph, after providing information about how Darwin’s contemporaries understood evolution, van Whye concludes, “Darwin, it was believed, had simply discovered a new law of nature designed by God.” Christians today can thus use a similar premise to accept the theory of evolution without it threatening their core beliefs.[1]


[1] Note that you do not necessarily need to name the essay so long as you clearly connect to van Whye in a works cited or references page. Use a handbook for the specific rules to follow when citing in a given style (e.g., MLA, APA). Also note that APA, for example, has different quotation guidelines, fro example, quotations longer than 40 words should be double spaced, and so on. For more details, take a look here.