Working with Sources

Altering sources

Integrating quotations from other sources is an important part of academic writing. However, doing so is rarely a simple process of cutting and pasting the words from a source into your own document. Instead, you will routinely encounter challenges during the quotation of a source that threaten the clarity and correctness of your prose. For example:

  • What do you do when you are writing in the present tense and the source material you are quoting uses the past tense? Simply pasting these words in without alteration will lead to odd shifts in tense.

  • What if the sentence you want to quote contains extraneous words or phrases that are a distraction from your intended purpose? Leaving these extra words or phrases in the quotation may lead your readers to become confused or bored.

  • What if a term in your quotation needs some sort of clarification so that your audience will understand what meaning you intend? Left unremarked, your readers may miss the point of your ideas or become confused.

  • What if you need to change the capitalization of a letter in the source text after placing it within the context of your writing? Leaving this unchanged would violate the rules of capitalization and make you appear sloppy or careless.

Issues such as these are a common problem in academic writing since the use of sources is so central to the enterprise.

So, what do you do in these situations?

This exercise will introduce you to ellipsis and brackets which are used to alter source material during quotation. These are important tools to wield as you take part in academic conversations.

Source Text

Source Text

-From Walker Percy, “The Loss of the Creature,” p. 47.

Why is it almost impossible to gaze directly at the Grand Canyon under these circumstances and see it for what it is—as one picks up a strange object from one’s back yard and gazes directly at it? It is almost impossible because the Grand Canyon, the thing as it is, has been appropriated by the symbolic complex which has already been formed in the sightseer’s mind. Seeing the canyon under approved circumstances is seeing the symbolic complex head on. The thing is no longer the thing as it confronted the Spaniard; it is rather that which has already been formulated—by picture postcard, geography book, tourist folders, and the words Grand Canyon. As a result of this preformulation, the source of the sightseer’s pleasure undergoes a shift. Where the wonder and delight of the Spaniard arose from his penetration of the thing itself, from a progressive discovery of depths, patterns, colors, shadows, etc., now the sightseer measures his satisfaction by the degree to which the canyon conforms to the preformed complex.


Using the source text provided above, write the sentences or paragraphs assigned below. For help with ellipsis, brackets, quotation, and paraphrase, read the chapters in the Open Handbook on altering sources and working with sources.

  1. Write a sentence involving a quotation from the passage, use ellipsis to show an omission, then cite according to MLA. The ellipsis must be for an omission within a single sentence.

  2. Write a sentence involving a quotation from the passage using ellipsis to show an omission, then cite according to MLA. The ellipsis must remove the ending of one sentence and the beginning of another.

  3. Write a sentence with a quotation that uses brackets to give the reader clarifying information, then cite according to MLA.

  4. Write a sentence with a quotation using brackets in a quotation to alter capitalization.

  5. Write a complete paraphrase of this text without quotation. Think of paraphrase as a translation from English into English—express the same ideas as another writer but use your own words and sentence structure. In this paraphrase, consider that your audience may not have read the essay from which this quotation was excerpted. What sorts of context should you provide to help them understand? Cite in MLA accordingly.

  6. Rewrite your paraphrase, but this time integrate some of the author’s language (in the form of short quotations) that you feel is significant or memorable. Cite in MLA accordingly.

  7. Write a summary of this passage using a single sentence.