Writing Guide: How to Analyze Quotes and Examples

Many early writers start writing paragraphs and only then look for quotes that will support their ideas.

This is a mistake.

It is essential to have quotes and examples in place before writing a paragraph. After all, strong paragraphs don’t just use evidence to support ideas. Strong paragraphs analyze the contradictions and complexities of those quotes and examples.

To recap:

- Step one for writing a paragraph is generating a topic sentence

- Step two is choosing quotes and examples for analysis

Here many writers face an issue, however. What to do when you have too many quotes or examples?

In any analytical paragraph, you should have one primary piece of evidence, which you can analyze in at least a few sentences, alongside an optional two or three supporting pieces of evidence. Let’s break that down.

Weaving in supporting evidence (optional)

Typically you’ll want to start by mentioning the supporting quotes or examples that help prove your point before moving onto analysis. Follow these rules:

- Unless the language itself is significant, you should paraphrase.

- If the language is significant, weave the text’s language into your own. For example: While Shakespeare suggests that Bottom is in more than one way an “ass” (IV.3.25), he also subtly intimates that perhaps he is also, in Titania’s words, an “angel” (III.1.950). [Follow with main quote showing this latter point].

- On occasion, you may want to use these quotes and examples to establish a seemingly obvious point that you’ll disprove with your main quote.

- For the most part, however, these quotes should make the same point as your main quote, but in miniature.

- Supporting quotes and examples are optional.

Analyzing a primary quote or example (essential)

To quote or not to quote?

In general, you should follow this rule:

- Only quote when you intend to analyze the language.

For English papers, you should analyze a quote in every paragraph. In English papers, after all, you should always aim to analyze the language.

For history papers, it’s more complicated. If you can paraphrase information about an event or a historian’s interpretation of the event, you may not need a quote. In fact, many history teachers would prefer you synthesized the information yourself than rely on someone else’s language. That said, you may still want to incorporate a primary source quote if you intend to analyze the language itself.

Regardless, you should aim to analyze a key piece of evidence—and most of that time, that evidence will be in the form of a quote.

How to analyze a quote?

Follow these steps:

First, write a sentence establishing plot context. Use phrases like:

- “Immediately after,”

- “Throughout the book,”

- “In response to”

Second, quote the quote by weaving it into your own sentence. If necessary, you can rely on these structures:

- “As __________ writes/says/notes,”

- “According to _______,”

Your writing will sound compelling, however, if you break up quotes:

- Ex: “To increase drama,” wrote Shakespeare, “break up quotes.”

Third, restate the speaker’s meaning in your own words. Begin with:

- “In other words,”

- “What ___ maintains/professes/proclaims”

However, restatement is only necessary if the speaker’s meaning was not clear — or needs to be simplified for argument.

Fourth, perform a close interpretation of what the speaker suggests, indicates, insinuates, or intimates.

- Do not yet assert whether the speaker (the character or narrator) is wrong, misguided, or lying

- Analyze the effectiveness of statement through syntax (parallel constructions), diction (word choice), and formal devices like image, alliteration, metaphor, etc.

- Look for ironies within the statement: “Shylock not only indicates that brute violence operates under the cover of contractual legalese, but accuses his accusers of the same kind of legalistic brutality for which he stands public trial.”

Fifth, suggest the larger meaning of what the author emphasizes—or the greater context reveals.

- Now offer context to assert validity of quote: is the speaker wrong/lying/narrow-minded?

- Look for the irony of statement. Remember in history, writings are often propaganda, while in English, authors (Shakespeare!) may prefer ironies to preachy messages. “Yet by having Shylock engage in a legalistic proof himself, Shakespeare reveals that Shylock is not only trapped within the discourse he laments — but is masterfully exploiting its persuasive potential to his audience on- and off- stage.”

In research papers, you may want to analyze not only the speaker’s perspective and the author’s perspective but your own perspective. You can read more about balancing these different interpretations in the next section on how to construct paragraphs by incorporating conflicting perspectives.