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How to Attribute a Quote: 6 Tips for Correct Attribution

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Jan 14, 2020 • 3 min read

When you want to quote someone like a public figure or interviewee for a news story or another piece of writing like a research article, it is important to know how to properly do so. Attribution allows readers to pinpoint the source of information they’ve read or heard.



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What Is Attribution?

Attribution means crediting the source where information or a direct quotation was obtained if it wasn’t your own firsthand knowledge. Attribution usually includes the full name of the person providing the quoted material or relevant info, and their job title (if needed to show why the source was used).

Why Is Correct Attribution Important?

Proper attribution is important as it gives credit to the person responsible for providing you necessary information, as well as supplying the reader with an objective perspective. If you use quotes or are paraphrasing from an original source, including the speaker’s name (or the person’s name who provided knowledge) can add credibility to your piece as well as avoid claims of plagiarism.

6 Tips for Correct Attribution

There are different types of attribution that are possible depending on which citation style you’re using. The following general rules can help you properly attribute quotes to use within your own writing:

  1. Determine the level of attribution necessary for your source. A person who speaks on the record will have their full name and job title referenced, whereas someone speaking on background might be quoted but without direct attribution. A full quote could also be completely off the record, which means the information obtained cannot be published at all. Establish how much credit the source should or wants to receive before publishing anything with their full name attached.
  2. Keep direct quotations word for word. The words within the quotation marks should be the exact words of the person speaking or the written words of the original author. If you’re using indirect quotes and putting your source’s info in your own words, you won’t use quotation marks, but the indirect quotation must still be cited properly.
  3. Be mindful of citation styles. For news writing, the full name of the source is included upon first reference, and then just the last name for every subsequent reference. For APA style in-text attributions for direct quotes, the last name, the year of publication, and the page number are put inside parentheticals immediately after the end of the quote. MLA style in-text attribution is only the last name and the page number the quote was taken from inside the parentheticals. Each style has its own formatting rules, so be aware of what is the proper protocol for your own citations.
  4. Use the proper format. For example, a long quote may be formatted as a blockquote—a new paragraph that is separated from the rest of the text. When attributing a long quotation, like from a literary research publication, the speaker or author’s name often goes toward the beginning, either before the quote, after the first sentence, or at its first natural pause. For a short quote, the author’s name can go at the end of the quote, with additional attribution tags depending on which format you’re citing for.
  5. Supply a works cited page. Many publications that cite additional sources provide a works cited page, which contains all of the references so that the reader knows where to look up credentials or additional research.
  6. Undisputed facts don’t need attribution. If something is a known fact, like “as of 2019, the United States of America has had 45 presidents,” it does not need to be attributed to a particular speaker or source of information.
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