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Quoting: the fundamentals

A quotation is a passage taken from a text word for word (direct quotation) or a reference to a passage in a text (indirect quotation). Images, tables, graphics, etc. can also be quoted if you explain them in your work and use them to support your argument.

A quotation consists of:

  • the section of the original text or the illustration (direct quotation only),
  • the brief information on the source inserted in the text in parentheses or as a footnote,
  • and the complete information on the source entered in the bibliography.

We will now explore how this works in detail.

If you are writing an academic work – whether a seminar paper or a dissertation – you must indicate the ideas or passages you have taken from other authors. Mark these ideas in your text in the form of a quotation and name the source, i.e. the place where you came across the idea.

The source reference helps anyone reading your text to check how you have used other authors’ thoughts. This is necessary to ensure your work remains ‘academic’. Showing how academic knowledge has been obtained is fundamental.

Academic quotations also show that you have not developed your arguments in a vacuum, but are referring to research already performed. Your text therefore adds another building block to academic discourse.

Quotations can be used to support your arguments. You shouldn’t simply list one quotation after another. Your text must still be comprehensible when the quotations are left out. You should check this every now and then to make sure there are no gaps in your line of argumentation.

For this reason, the general rule should be to quote as much as necessary and as little as possible.

To exaggerate slightly, this means that you shouldn’t quote just to show how much you have read on the subject. The reader should be convinced by your argument, not by a long bibliography.

A few simple questions will help you determine whether an online text is worth quoting. You will find useful information in the Evaluating literature tutorial.

Direct and indirect quoting: How does it work?

You can quote ideas or text passages from other authors directly. Use quotation marks and name the source. Please remember that you must not alter the quoted passage in any way. If you need to modify the grammatical structure of the quoted passage, use square parentheses to indicate your changes. .

Here's an example:

"Wissenschaftliches Arbeiten bedeutet stets präzises Arbeiten. Dies gilt auch bei der Adaption von Aussagen oder Gedankengängen anderer Autoren, welches bei der Erstellung einer wissenschaftlichen Arbeit einen wesentlichen Bestandteil darstellt."


Kollmann, Tobias; Kuckertz, Andreas; Stöckmann, Christoph (2016): Das 1 x 1 des Wissenschaftlichen Arbeitens. Von der Idee bis zur Abgabe. Wiesbaden: Gabler. (letzter Zugriff am 01.09.2017), S. 81.

This text passage could be included in your work as follows:

Die "Adaption von Aussagen oder Gedankengängen anderer Autoren [stellt] […] bei der Erstellung einer wissenschaftlichen Arbeit einen wesentlichen Bestandteil" dar. (Kollmann et al., 2016, S. 18)

The citation style determines how the source should be included, whether it should appear in parentheses or in a footnote. More information on this will be provided later.

Surprisingly, you may not even correct typos in the original text. To indicate a typo, add [sic!].

Try not to use too many direct quotations.

Indirect quoting is more common and allows you to include longer passages from other authors in your work. When quoting indirectly, you reproduce content that supports your argument in your own words. Of course, you also need to provide the source.

Indirect quotations are often introduced in order to clearly distinguish them from the rest of the text: "XY concludes that ..." or "YZ emphasises that ...". The introductory verb allows you to show whether you support the author's opinion ("XY rightly says ...", "YZ proves ...") or reject it ("XY claims ...", "YX tries to prove that ..., but ...").

Also note that the position of the source indicates where the indirect quotation begins. If the source (the short reference in the text or footnote) is provided after a sentence, it refers to the entire sentence. If the source is provided at the end of a paragraph, the whole paragraph refers to that source.

If you reproduce other authors' ideas, it is best to use reported speech.

For example:

The source text is:

"Das Zitieren ist relativ einfach. Man darf nur nicht vergessen, die Quelle zu nennen."

Indirectly quoted, this statement could read:

Mr August described quoting as relatively simple. However, he also said that the source must always be named. (August, 2017, p. 9)

In indirect quotations, the source is often introduced with "cf." or something similar. The example above would look like this: (Cf. August, 2017, p. 9)

If the same source is quoted a second time directly after the first, "ibidem" can be used: (ibid., p. 10).

If the quotation refers to one page of a text and the page that immediately follows, you can indicate this with "f." or "et seq.", meaning "the following page"; "ff." stands for the first page of a text and at least two pages that immediately follow. "Et seq." could also be used here.

The bibliography

You should use the bibliography at the end of your work to list all the sources used and quoted – the authors' last names are usually listed in alphabetical order. While only a short source reference is required in the body of your work (e.g. August, 2017, p. 9), the bibliography must provide all the information necessary to clearly identify and retrieve the source.

In principle, the source information ensures that a source can be clearly identified. For example, if there are several editions of a book, it may have been revised and its design may have changed. It is therefore important to indicate the edition used. The information required for the source reference depends on the type of document. Here we have listed the most common types with examples.

Tip: For more information on subject-specific document categories, see our books on academic practice.

Citation styles and literature management

The citation style determines the format of the source references and bibliography. The choice of citation style depends strongly on the subject you are studying. While the source is provided in parentheses after a quotation in the natural and social sciences, footnotes are widely used in the humanities.

The citation style also determines all formal aspects, e.g. which punctuation marks are used and where, whether the author’s first name is abbreviated, written out or omitted, and whether a page reference is prefixed with "p." for "page" or whether the number alone is used.

The most important thing is to be consistent. Ask your supervisor which citation style you should use.

For example: One source – many citation styles

Here we have added a source in three random citation styles. You will immediately see that the source reference is provided in very different ways.

Citavi base style:

Knigge-Illner, Helga (1998): Prüfungsangst bewältigen. In: Das Hochschulwesen 46 (3), S. 163–171.

Citation style of the Modern Language Association:

Knigge-Illner, Helga. "Prüfungsangst bewältigen." Das Hochschulwesen 46.3 (1998): 163–71.


Knigge-Illner, Helga, ‘Prüfungsangst bewältigen’, Das Hochschulwesen, 46/3 (1998), 163–71.

Tip: If you use a literature management programme, the software will automatically convert your sources to the desired format.

A literature management programme helps you to collect your references and PDFs in one place. This means that, rather than typing in the source information manually, you can transfer it from the catalogue or database with a click of the mouse. When writing the paper, you can simply insert the source information. The bibliography is created automatically in the process – in the correct order, of course.

The university provides licenses for the EndNote and Citavi programmes. EndNote is suitable for use in the natural sciences, while Citavi is very useful for the humanities and social sciences. Our courses and webinars allow you to try out the functions of the programmes.

All about plagiarism

In an academic context, plagiarism means using ideas or text passages from other authors without identifying them. Plagiarism – whether intentional or not – presents the ideas of others as one's own work.

These tips will help you to steer clear:

  • Use copy and paste for direct quotations only. Try not to use too many direct quotations. And don’t forget to quote as much as necessary but as little as possible. Quotations are not supposed to replace your argument, only to support it.
  • When it comes to sources, be meticulous and make sure you don't accidentally forget to provide information on all of your sources. A literature management programme – which you can feed with information during your research – will help with this.
  • For indirect quotations, do not use the original wording. You are not permitted to simply make minor changes to the sentence structure or the choice of words.
  • If you would like to reuse parts of your own, previously published work, you need to quote your own texts; otherwise you will plagiarising yourself.
  • If you are not sure how to proceed with individual quotations, seek assistance, for example from your supervisor.
  • Do not be afraid to express your thoughts on a topic in your own words.