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Quotation IncorporationNew law students face many complications when incorporating quotations from other sources into their own work. These fall into three general categories: creating a grammatically correct sentence that includes the quoted material; using brackets properly; and using ellipses properly. In addition, new law students (and many practicing lawyers) tend to quote far too often. This guide has separate sections on using brackets, ellipses, and quotation marks. Be sure to review those sections carefully because mastery of the rules there does not come naturally to most legal writers. This section focuses on creating proper sentences when incorporating quotations, on certain technical rules for quoting, and on avoiding quotations when possible.
1. Be careful to avoid quoting excessively; paraphrase whenever possible. New law students sometimes believe, incorrectly, that they should always quote a judge's words. After all, the thinking goes, the judge must know the best way to express the law. However, excessive quotation is a poor substitute for analysis. Your job as a lawyer is to analyze precedent, not just repeat it. Thus, your writing should explain to your reader why and how a precedent is important to your client. You can not accomplish that important interpretive function merely by stringing quotes together. Moreover, stringing together quotations from cases and secondary sources tends to produce a choppy, incoherent text. It is generally better to use your own words so that the text you write will have a logical progression and consistent style from sentence to sentence.
A paraphrase is the expression of another's ideas in one's own words. You may paraphrase existing material as long as you provide a proper citation after the paraphrase. You should not put quotation marks around paraphrased material. The citation indicates that the ideas are from another source; the lack of quotation marks indicates that the words chosen to express those ideas are your own. Well-paraphrased material will change the majority of the key words from the original source. If your paraphrase retains words of special significance from the original source, put quotation marks around those words only.
Undesirable series of quotations:"The question in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent." Schenck v. United States, 249 U.S. 47, 52 (1919). "One may not counsel or advise others to violate the law as it stands. Words are not only the keys of persuasion, but the triggers of action, and those which have no purport but to counsel the violation of law cannot by any latitude of interpretation be a part of that public opinion which is the final source of government in a democratic state." Masses Publishing Co. v. Patten, 244 F. 535, 545 (S.D.N.Y. 1917)(Hand, J.).
Desirable paraphrase/summary with only key words quoted:Congress may regulate speech if that speech would "create a clear and present danger" of a specific harm against which Congress may legislate. Schenck v. United States, 249 U.S. 47, 52 (1919). Thus, it is illegal to encourage others to commit crimes, and the fact that "speech" is involved does not render Congress powerless. The public debate that the Framers sought to encourage in enacting the First Amendment does not include conspiracies to break the law. Masses Publishing Co. v. Patten, 244 F. 535, ___ (S.D.N.Y. 1917)(Hand, J.).
Explanation: The second example is more desirable because it makes the substantive point with many fewer words. In addition, an excessive reliance on quotations from older sources may produce a text that seems archaic.
2. If you do quote, avoid freestanding quotations. As a general rule, it is better when quoting to incorporate that quotation into a sentence of your own, rather than quoting an entire sentence from a case. Consider the following.
Awkward, Freestanding Quote:"A racial classification, regardless of purported motivation, is presumptively invalid and can be upheld only upon an extraordinary justification." Personnel Administrator of Massachusetts v. Feeney, 442 U.S. 256, 272 (1979).
Better Combination of Paraphrasing and Quoting:Legislation that distinguishes among citizens on the basis of their race "is presumptively invalid and can be upheld only upon an extraordinary justification." Personnel Administrator of Massachusetts v. Feeney, 442 U.S. 256, 272 (1979).The second example is preferable because the writer is writing specifically about racial classifications contained in legislation, and thus tailored the sentence to address a specific type of classification. Leaving the freestanding quotation on its own does not accomplish that end.
3. Do quote words of special significance or particular eloquence. From time to time, one comes across a phrase or sentence so well written that to paraphrase it would be almost criminal. Other phrases may have become part of the lore of legal writing, and to the knowledgeable reader a paraphrase would seem silly. These phrases are rare, but when you find them, feel free to quote them. They can be particularly effective in a memorandum or brief prepared for a court. Sometimes, one would lose the effectiveness of the quote unless it is left freestanding. In that case, one should disregard the general rule against freestanding quotations. The following are a few examples."But in view of the constitution, in the eye of the law, there is in this country no superior, dominant, ruling class of citizens. There is no caste here. Our constitution is color-blind . . . ." Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537, 559 (1896)(Harlan, J., dissenting).
"It is revolting to have no better reason for a rule of law than that so it was laid down in the time of Henry IV. It is still more revolting if the grounds upon which it was laid down have vanished long since, and the rule simply persists from blind imitation of the past." Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., The Path of the Law, 10 Harv. L. Rev. 457, 469 (1897), quoted in Bowers v. Hardwick, 478 U.S. 186, 199 (1986)(Blackmun, J., dissenting).
"The makers of our Constitution . . . conferred, as against the government, the right to be let alone -- the most comprehensive of rights and the right most valued by civilized men. To protect that right, every unjustifiable intrusion by the government upon the privacy of the individual, whatever the means employed, must be deemed a violation of the Fourth Amendment." Olmstead v. United States, 277 U.S. 438, 478 (1928)(Brandeis, J., dissenting).
It is not surprising that the authors of these famous words are Justices Harlan, Holmes, and Brandeis. Along with Justice Cardozo, Chief Justice Marshall, and perhaps a few others, they are considered the legends of American legal history. In persuasive writing, it never hurts to quote a legend.
4. Do not use quotation marks around terms of art. A term of art is a phrase that has become so well accepted and pervasive in a particular field that it is no longer considered proprietary to its original author. These terms also have meanings well known to everyone who practices in the fields in which they are used. You need not place quotation marks around a term of art, nor do you need to cite to a source, although you may want to provide a cite in order to strengthen the point you are asserting. The following are a few examples.
Beyond a reasonable doubtYou will find further guidance on the use of terms of art in the section of this guide on Legalese.
Burden of proof
Case of first impression
Clear and convincing evidence
Due process of law
Reasonably prudent person
Right of first refusal
5. Try to avoid using block quotes of 50 words or longer. Many readers skip over block quotes because they are looking for explanations of the law, rather than mere reprinting. Don't use block quotes unless (i) there is simply no other way to write what you intend to convey (extremely rare) or (ii) the words are so eloquent that to paraphrase them would seriously undermine the persuasiveness of your text.
6. If you must use block quotes, be sure to indent and single space. Quotations of 50 words or longer should be indented at both the left and right margins by approximately one-half inch in each case. They should be typed in single-space format, and the citation for the quote should be placed two lines down from the end of the quote and at the original left margin. Do not place quotation marks around such a quote: the reader will know it is a quote because you have indented it. However, if there are quotations within the blocked quote, then do use citations around these internal quotations. The following is an example of a properly blocked quotation of 50 words or more.Allowing discrimination based on the contagious effects of a physical impairment would be inconsistent with the basic purpose of Sec. 504, which is to ensure that handicapped individuals are not denied jobs or other benefits because of the prejudiced attitudes or the ignorance of others. By amending the definition of "handicapped individual" to include not only those who are actually physically impaired, but also those who are regarded as impaired and who, as a result, are substantially limited in a major life activity, Congress acknowledged that Society's accumulated myths and fears about disability and disease are as handicapping as are the physical limitations that flow from actual impairment.School Board of Nassau County v. Arline, 480 U.S. 273, 284 (1987).
Note that Justice Brennan used the abbreviation "Sec." in the opinion excerpted above. Justice Brennan is considered among the great justices of the century; here, however, he should have spelled out the word "section." (See the section of this text on abbreviations.)
7. Use a comma after "said," "stated," "exclaimed," and similar terms when introducing a quote; in other cases, add the word "that" and use no comma. It is sometimes difficult, such as with the word "held" in the second example below, to determine whether it is acceptable to use an introductory term with a comma (such as "said,") instead of an introductory term with the word "that" (such as "wrote that"). When in doubt, use the latter option (held that, wrote that, found that, concluded that). This is the more widely accepted option.
Incorrect: The Supreme Court stated "A function of free speech under our system of government is to invite dispute. It may indeed best serve its high purpose when it induces a condition of unrest, creates dissatisfaction with conditions as they are, or even stirs people to anger." Terminello v. Chicago, 337 U.S. 1, 4 (1949).
Correct: The Supreme Court stated, "A function of free speech under our system of government is to invite dispute. It may indeed best serve its high purpose when it induces a condition of unrest, creates dissatisfaction with conditions as they are, or even stirs people to anger." Terminello v. Chicago, 337 U.S. 1, 4 (1949).
Also Correct:The Supreme Court stated that "[a] function of free speech under our system of government is to invite dispute. It may indeed best serve its high purpose when it induces a condition of unrest, creates dissatisfaction with conditions as they are, or even stirs people to anger." Terminello v. Chicago, 337 U.S. 1, 4 (1949).Incorrect: The Supreme Court held, "A function of free speech under our system of government is to invite dispute. It may indeed best serve its high purpose when it induces a condition of unrest, creates dissatisfaction with conditions as they are, or even stirs people to anger." Terminello v. Chicago, 337 U.S. 1, 4 (1949).Correct: The Supreme Court held that "[a] function of free speech under our system of government is to invite dispute. It may indeed best serve its high purpose when it induces a condition of unrest, creates dissatisfaction with conditions as they are, or even stirs people to anger." Terminello v. Chicago, 337 U.S. 1, 4 (1949).
Note that in examples three and five above, brackets are appended around the article "a." This is because to use an upper-case letter there -- in the middle of a sentence -- would be inappropriate. Your sentence, even if it includes a quotation within it, must still meet all the rules of a traditional sentence. The brackets indicate to the reader that you have changed an upper-case "A" to the lower case.
8. When you incorporate quoted material into your own sentence, make sure the result is a grammatically correct sentence. When you add another's words to your own to create a sentence, the combined product must be grammatically correct. In determining whether the sentence is grammatically correct, momentarily ignore the quotation marks and ask yourself whether, if all the words were your own, the sentence would be correct. If not, you need either to rewrite the portion of the sentence you created or drop the quoted material and use a paraphrase.
9. Avoid introducing quotations with a colon. The use of a colon to introduce a quotation is appropriate only when the words that follow the colon are truly momentous. Instead, try to incorporate part of the quote into a sentence of your own. (See item two of this section.)
Cross References: Brackets, Ellipses, Quotation Marks
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