The easiest way for me to think about incorporating quotes into my own writing is to imagine each paragraph as a sandwich. It is kind of a goofy image, but it is an easy one to help you remember all the key elements that you need to include in a good paragraph.
Depending on the type of essay, you get to make your own fancy sandwiches and they can be any kind that you want, but they usually have the same basic elements that contribute to good writing. There are a lot of fun, stylistic ways to adapt the basics to your particular topic, audience and preference.
First, we start with the bread, otherwise known as the main idea, topic sentence or main argument of the paragraph. This is going to be the point that your quote will support. Aim for this to be an interesting, thought-provoking, multi-grain sentence that will draw your audience in.
Second, we get to the condiments. This is your smooth, flavorful sentence that may be used to link your main point to your quotation. Now, for some people, their bread might be so good, that they don’t need any mustard or horseradish sauce or whatever. Others might have a couple of these linking sentences, depending on how many steps you need to take to get from your point to the quote you plan to use. Again, it depends on your style and the needs of your essay.
Third comes the lettuce and the tomato. Again, what you use depends on what you are writing, but you almost always want to have that signal phrase, or the lettuce, that introduces the author of the quote to the audience. If you decide you want to add a tomato, or an appositive, to describe the author’s credentials, all the better. If you have already introduced the speaker earlier in the paper, you might just need a little shred of lettuce. If it is the first time the audience has “met” this author, you might want to heap on the veggies.
For example: “According to Dr. John Smith [signal phrase], respected physician [appositive], running is good for your health. ‘The very scientific thing that he says would be quoted here.'”
You might decide that your audience needs additional information on the author. Perhaps they run a foundation to raise money for their cause. Perhaps they are biased due to their family or background. Think of these like other toppings, pickles, peppers, onions, that you might throw on to the sandwich before the meat and cheese.
“According to Dr. John Smith, a respected physician, whose son died of a heart attack at 40 [signals ethos/bias=pickles], “awareness is the key” (27). Dr. Smith now volunteers at community centers, giving lectures about the dangers of high cholesterol in honor of his son (32). [pathos appeal = onions]
Fourth, we get to the heart of the sandwich, the meat and the cheese. The meat is the actual quotation, enclosed in quotes. The cheese is the citation that comes at the end of the quotation. You can not have one without the other – it just isn’t American. (Or, if blatant patriotic rhetoric doesn’t convince you, think of the citation as an expiration date: without the citation, how do you know if the meat is any good?)
Example: According to Dr. John Smith, respected physician, “This quotation perfectly supports my argument while stating important new information” (32).
Enclose the quote sandwich with another piece of bread, but this time, you are going to make that explicit statement that connects the quote back to the main idea. The sandwich will fall apart if you don’t enclose it on the other side. So all together, your quote sandwich should look a little something like this:
Presently in American culture, we worship thinness. [bread] Just as unrealistic standards have driven some people to health problems, it has also produced a new attitude towards fitness. [condiment] According to Roberta Seid, a lecturer at USC: [lettuce/tomato] “We have elevated the pursuit of a lean, fat free body into a new religion” (498). The creed of this “new religion” is “I eat well, watch my weight, and exercise [meat]” (498). [cheese] In our new church, then, Richard Simmons an apostle and Little Debbie, the new Satan.[condiment] Just like religion, the cult of thinness can become dangerous by celebrating sacrifice and creating unrealistic role models. [bread]
When it comes to your final slice of bread, be explicit in your connections. The most common mistake for freshmen writers is they go through all of this set up, introduce the author with appositives, cite the quote correctly and after the quote, they move on to something else. Or, they write a sentence that is the equivalent of “See. See. They are connected” without ever spelling out what the connection is, why it is important or how it builds to the larger argument. As upper-level writers, you are likely making complex and interesting connections between your quotes. DO NOT LEAVE THOSE CONNECTIONS IN YOUR HEAD. This slice of bread is ALL YOU. This is where your ideas shine and your argument gets heard. DO NOT LEAVE IT OUT.
When it comes to paragraphs, each one should have a specific topic (or each should be its own sandwich, if you will.) Each paragraph should have one specific point, and it should be easy for your reader to follow that point, from the topic sentence, through the quotes and into the final analysis where you explain how everything is held together. If you are talking about so many things in one paragraph that you can’t encapsulate the whole point in one sentence, you need to break up that paragraph into more manageable chunks. (This is the sandwich equivalent of mixing PB&J, tuna fish and bologna all together: too many things means it is difficult to swallow!)
Genre conventions dictate that topic sentences come at the start of each paragraph. These sentences will tell the reader what the following paragraph is about (and are super-helpful to the skimming process when you are trying to read a lot in a hurry!) It is really really hard to write good topic sentences on the first pass, because your paragraphs will evolve as you write them. Like a good thesis statement, topic sentences often need to be revised once you have written a first draft of your paper. You want to go back through your paper and check to make sure each topic sentence is an accurate summary/forecast of what is to come.
Once you have your paper written and in the order that you plan to keep, you will want to further tweak your bread slices to ensure that there are appropriate transitions from paragraph to paragraph. The sandwich metaphor breaks down a little here: if an essay consists of a whole line of quote sandwiches, transitions would be the element that demonstrates how each sandwich is ultimately connected. (The closest thing I can come up with is a wrapper, like the logoed paper Subway wraps around each one of its subs. When you get a stack of subs from Subway, you know that each one came from the same place and are connected with similar elements.)