Integrating textual evidence is one of the most challenging, and yet, one of the most rewarding aspects of an essay. A well presented quotation can truly make or break an essay, so merely finding the right evidence isn’t enough. Imagine the timing and finesse of great lawyers, and channel this. (See Finding Purposeful and Specific Textual Evidence for more information on choosing what textual evidence to use.)
Once you have some words to highlight you must determine how on earth to include them in your essay. As discussed earlier, Peeta using the word “sweetheart” in itself isn’t funny, so there is some explaining that must be done. And, as it turns out, carelessly plopping the word into your essay with quotation marks around in the spirit of abstraction won’t do either. At this step you must consider the following two questions: How can I introduce the quote? And how can I integrate it into a sentence?
[Read on for step-by-step instructions on how to introduce and integrate your textual evidence into your essay!]
Introductions: It’s Nice To Meet You!
Introducing a quote is a delicate process. Think of it as introducing two strangers. A gracious host would provide each individual’s name and a little bit of information about them. The question is: What information? Do you describe the bug collection one individual had in fourth grade? Probably not. –Unless your other friend is an entomologist, someone who studies insects.
The key to introductions is to find information that is relevant. Perhaps something recent or something related to your surroundings (Beth decorated the cake for us.) or something that the two people have in common (Beth plays tennis competitively too). You must treat textual evidence the same way: consider the context of the quote and how it is relevant to your argument. Describing the “context” of a quote could mean a lot. It could mean describing:
- the setting (…a few days into a battle to the death, within the arena)
- the characters’ relationship and situation (Katniss and Peeta are from the same district; they get along but they are in the middle of a battle to the death.)
- what happened before or after this quote (Earlier, Peeta seemingly betrayed Katniss and joined an enemy group. Soon, Katniss discovers that Peeta is critically wounded, though she never would have guessed given his high spirits.)
Context can mean a lot, so you must figure out the relationship between the quote and your main point. (Remember: choosing something akin to your friend’s fourth grade hobbies most likely isn’t germane, so think back to your argument and your main purpose. –While commenting on Peeta’s great facial structure may have some factual relevance, it probably isn’t going to help your argument much.)
Our purpose is to prove that Peeta has a sense of humor. As observed earlier, calling someone “sweetheart” in an arena designed to kill all but one participant is what makes the word humorous since the environment doesn’t exactly encourage bonding. So this aspect of the context must be described before integrating the quote into your essay. In this case, I think one sentence should do the trick. Note how I mention the setting and the characters’ situation:
In the midst of a battle-to-the-death in which Peeta and Katniss are involuntary combatants, Peeta miraculously maintains a lighthearted attitude..
Integrating A Direct Quote: Be One With The Paragraph
Integrating your quote means seamlessly featuring the quote in your paragraph. If introducing a quote is like introducing a guest with the right information, integrating a quote is like using the right timing and tone of voice. Interrupting your guests to introduce someone would be a social faux pas, the same way that awkward quote integration would reduce sentence fluency. Try one of these two methods to make your quote go with the flow of your paragraph:
1. Use a tag: if the quote is the exact words of a character or narrator, consider using an appropriate dialogue tag such as, said, explained, claimed, exclaimed, announced, suggested, shouted, demanded, whispered, cried, and so on. If the quote is the words of the author (or if you’d like to emphasize the author’s word choice), try using a tag such as, wrote, described, explained, etc. Here’s an example of some textual evidence with the context introduced and the quote integrated:
In the midst of a battle-to-the-death in which Peeta and Katniss are involuntary combatants, Peeta miraculously maintains a lighthearted attitude. When they happen upon each other, Peeta humorously announces himself, remarking, “You here to finish me off, sweetheart?”
2. Use the exact words as part of your sentence: Use the exact word or phrase to replace something you discuss in your argument. This can be a bit trickier but can sound highly sophisticated when pulled off well. Note the example below which uses the same exact introductory sentence but integrates the words of the quote differently:
In the midst of a battle-to-the-death in which Peeta and Katniss are involuntary combatants, Peeta miraculously maintains a lighthearted attitude.. When they happen upon each other, Peeta humorously calls Katniss a “sweetheart” and asks her if she’s “here to finish [him] off.”
Choose whichever method you are most comfortable with and experiment with arrangements and word choice: there is no single best format, so try a number of combinations until you find the one you like best.
What’s Your Point?
Now that you’ve introduced and integrated your quote gracefully, it is time to explain the quote’s significance. To really pack a punch, your argument cannot merely present evidence, it must support and explain the quote to create the most impact. Answer the question: What does this quote prove? To do this, think back to your purpose. Why did you choose this quote anyway? Which detail is especially important and why? Try using words like, shows, reveals, demonstrates, proves, or suggests in order to explain to your reader exactly how the quote relates to your argument.
In this case, Peeta’s word choice shows that he has a fairly merry attitude, in spite of the circumstances. To strengthen the connection between your quote and your statement of its significance, point out specific words or phrases from the quote if necessary and explain what your quote shows. For example,
Peeta and all of the combatants know that only one person is meant to make it out alive, so by using the word, “sweetheart,” Peeta creates a playful and ironic tone, which is at odds with his current situation. This reveals that he has a positive disposition that can withstand even the most grim of circumstances, including being mortally wounded, as Katniss soon discovers.
And there you have it. If you’ve followed those steps, you have now used a quotation to make a great case for your argument.
Here is the completed use of textual evidence about Peeta:
In the midst of a battle-to-the-death in which Peeta and Katniss are involuntary combatants, Peeta miraculously maintains a lighthearted attitude. When they happen upon each other, Peeta humorously announces himself, remarking, “You here to finish me off, “sweetheart?” Peeta and all of the combatants know that only one person is meant to make it out alive, so by using the word, “sweetheart,” Peeta creates a playful and ironic tone, which is at odds with his current situation. This reveals that he has a positive disposition that can withstand even the most grim of circumstances, including being mortally wounded, as Katniss soon discovers.
If your textual evidence doesn’t sound as convincing as a high-profile lawyer’s closing statement, do not despair: Practice will make perfect, and even the most (especially the most) experienced writers edit their work repeatedly. If you don’t know where to start with your edits, try asking a friend or parent to read your work, and ask them which parts are clear and which parts could use some clarification.
About the author: Caroline graduated magna cum laude from The College of New Jersey with a degree in English and Secondary Education. She taught 8th grade language arts and has enjoyed tutoring in a number of different contexts, including through volunteer opportunities, tutoring centers, and one-on-one tutoring. In her free time she enjoys applying literary theories to non-literary topics, faking athleticism fairly well, and pondering philosophical, political, and sociological quandaries. Since she lives to help others, she is looking forward to utilizing her education and experiences in order to help PT continue to make a difference in students’ lives.