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How To Shorten Quotes In An Essay

What punctuation should be used when words are omitted from a direct quotation?

Dot com. Dot org. Dot edu. Dots abound. One purpose a dot serves is to separate information into easily-interpreted units: a website name from its extension, dollars from cents, or one idea from another in written text. Almost everyone is familiar with the dot placed at the end of a sentence—that everyday form of punctuation known as a period. A less common punctuation mark, often used in academic writing, is a series of three dots called ellipsis points.

How are ellipsis points used?

Ellipsis points are used to represent an omission from a direct quotation when it is cited by another writer. This series of three dots—with a space before, after, and between them ( . . . )—is inserted where a word, phrase, sentence (or more) is left out.

How should ellipsis points be spaced within a sentence?

When an omission is made from within a direct quotation, ellipsis points take the place of the omitted text. A space should appear between each of the three dots, as well as before and after the ellipsis. One of the most common ellipsis point usage errors is to omit the required spaces.

Let’s take a look at an example:

Original direct quotation:

“[D]riving is not as automatic as one might think; in fact, it imposes a heavy procedural workload on cognition that, especially in difficult driving conditions, leaves little processing capacity available for other tasks” (Salvucci and Taatgen 107). [1]

Quotation with ellipsis points used correctly:

“[D]riving is not as automatic as one might think; in fact, it imposes a heavy procedural workload on cognition that . . . leaves little processing capacity available for other tasks” (Salvucci and Taatgen 107).

Note: All of the required spaces have been included in this example.

Quotation with ellipsis points used incorrectly:

“Driving is not as automatic as one might think; in fact, it imposes a heavy procedural workload on cognition that...leaves little processing capacity available for other tasks” (Salvucci and Taatgen 107).

Note: All of the required spaces have been incorrectly omitted in this example.

How should ellipsis points be spaced for an omission after a sentence?

When a word, a phrase, or a sentence (or more) is deleted after a complete sentence within a direct quotation, the ellipsis points are inserted after the sentence’s ending punctuation. Two units of punctuation appear; one is the sentence’s ending punctuation and the other is the ellipsis points.

Let’s take a look at an example:

Original direct quotation:

“It is widely acknowledged that today’s drivers do more than just drive. Whether the distraction arises from built-in ‘infotainment’ systems or from portable electronic devices brought into the vehicle, drivers have a wide array of nondriving tasks available to them at any given time” (Salvucci and Taatgen 67).

Quotation with ellipsis points used correctly:

“It is widely acknowledged that today’s drivers do more than just drive. . . . [D]rivers have a wide array of nondriving tasks available to them at any given time” (Salvucci and Taatgen 67).

Note: The ending punctuation is followed by the three ellipsis points in this example.

Quotation with ellipsis points used incorrectly:

“It is widely acknowledged that today’s drivers do more than just drive . . .  [D]rivers have a wide array of nondriving tasks available to them at any given time” (Salvucci and Taatgen 67).

Note: The ending punctuation for the first sentence has been incorrectly left out.

FYI: Do not begin or end a direct quotation with ellipsis points (except in rare instances). The reader already assumes that the quote has been excerpted from a larger work.

A word of caution:Ellipses may not be used to alter the quotation in a way that inaccurately or unfairly represents the original text, either in meaning or grammatical construction. Quite simply, do not use ellipses to make a quote say something other than what the author originally intended.

Ellipsis Point Usage: Quick View

Do:Don't:
Insert one space between each of the three ellipsis points.Use ellipsis points at the beginning or end of a direct quotation (except in rare instances).
Insert a space before and after the ellipsis points.Use ellipses to make a quote say something other than what the author originally intended.
Include the sentence's ending punctuation followed by the ellipsis points when the dots are inserted after a complete sentence.Leave out the spaces before and after the ellipsis points or between them.

For additional information on ellipses, see also:


[1] Salvucci, Dario D., and Niels A. Taatgen. Multitasking Mind. Oxford UP, 2011. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost). Web. 20 February 2012.

Keeping quotes short lets you focus on discussing your examples and how they relate to your essay question. You can do this in several ways:

Paraphrasing

Paraphrasing a direct quote lets you focus on the parts that are relevant to your point. When you paraphrase a direct quote, it becomes an indirect quote.

Paraphrased quotes need to be different to the original version, so write them in your own words. One way to do this is to read the quote and then write what you think it means, without looking back at it.

Editing direct quotes

If a quote is too long or there's a section that's not relevant to your point, you can edit it out by replacing that section with an ellipsis [...].

For example

The Queensland trackers [...] were very active on foot.

This quote was too long to include in our piece on Harry Power so a few words were cut out and replaced with an ellipsis in square brackets – [...].

You can also change individual words so that a quote makes sense, by putting the word you've changed in square brackets [].

For example

'...the word 'sorry' [is] not about monetary compensation or damages...'

This quote has been taken from a bigger sentence, so the word 'is' had to be added to make the new sentence make sense. You know it's been changed because of the square brackets around it.

Bending quotes too far

When editing quotes, try to avoid taking out sections that change the quote's meaning. is a form of and the goal of an argumentative essay is to be objective, so if you can't find any quotes that support your ideas, you might need to re-think your argument.