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  • Writer's pictureAnqi Teng

How to use a quote in your English essay the right way - important for HSC preparation!

Incorporating quotes is an expectation for all high school English essays (and beyond, if you’re pursuing English academia). It is a simple instruction: discuss a quote. However, it can be a headache inducing task if you're not confident with the process.

This blog post will teach you:

  • ​The difference between a good quote and bad quote.

  • How to analyse a quote you have chosen.

  • How to analyse, not story tell.

  • How to link it back to the question.

At the end of this post there will be an essay example where you can see our tips in action. You can scroll down to this straight away if you wish – it’s at the bottom of the post.

This guide is geared towards students sitting the HSC English exam, but all high school students will be able to improve their English essay assessment marks with the information.

How to choose a “good quote” for your English essay.

Not all quotes are made the same. Sometimes when a writer talks about a “blue stroller”, it literally just means a blue stroller. There is no deeper meaning behind it (a shocking truth).

A "good quote" for HSC English essays must hit the following checklist:

  • ​It is relevant to your essay argument and English syllabus requirements?

  • It is a dense, juicy quote?

  • It is short enough to incorporate into an HSC essay, which are around 1000 words (5-6 words in length is ideal)?

What makes a quote "juicy" and stronger for textual analysis?

A quote with metaphorical richness and conceptual depth is considered stronger, because there is:

  • ​more emotional and intellectual impact on the audience to discuss.

  • more literary devices and effects to discuss.

Let’s use Maya Angelou’s ‘Caged Bird’ to examine a weaker vs stronger English essay quote:

A weaker quote:

for the caged bird
sings of freedom.

Potential analysis:

  • The “caged bird” is an extended metaphor for oppressed minorities. In Maya Angelou’s context it refers to the systemic oppression of African Americans. The song thus implies that the caged bird wants to be free.

  • A song is a symbol of hope – suggesting the oppressed wishes for freedom.

A stronger quote:

But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream

Potential analysis:

  • The extended metaphor of a “caged bird” is also present here.

  • The morbid visual imagery of the bird upon a metaphorical “grave of dreams” positions readers to understand that oppression is not about simple physical constraint, it is also about the loss of hope.

  • The reference to death implies cessation of all potential – barring the oppressed from all opportunity. The severity of this is elevated for the reader through this reference to death.

  • The alliteration of “shadow shouts” elevates this phrase in the ears of the audience, heightening the emotional intensity of entrapment.

  • “Shout” and “scream” are also violent olfactory images – conveying frustration and desperation to the reader.

The second quote is much richer in techniques and effect and can be used to address a variety of arguments. This is the type of stronger quote that you should prepare for high school English assessments and the HSC English exam.

However, no matter how strong a quote is, you have to make sure you analyse rather than story tell.


What is the difference between analysis and storytelling?

If your English essay feedback is full of comments that say “stop storytelling” or “you need deeper analysis”, this section is a must-read for you.

What is storytelling?

Storytelling is when you restate what a quote says in different words. It is equivalent to paraphrasing or summarising. You are not adding any new information, you are simply repeating old information.

For example, if you were to discuss the following sentence:

“A red apple with perfect skin but rotten flesh.”

It is storytelling to say any of the following:

  • “This means that there was an apple that looked good but tasted bad.”

  • “The apple had smooth skin but when cut open it was actually rotten, so people should be careful.”

  • “This was a bad apple hidden under smooth skin which is likely to be unhealthy.”

So then, what is analysis?

Analysis is when new information is added to the existing quote. A simple way to help you get started on textual analysis is to think about the following questions:

  • ​How does this quote impact the audience?

  • What is the deeper message behind the quote?

  • What literary devices can I identify?

For the same quote:

“A red apple with perfect skin but rotten flesh.”

It is analysis to say any of the following:

  • “The apple is a biblical allusion to the Devil’s temptation, implying that immorality is often disguised by an enticing exterior.”

  • “The contrast between the apple’s appearance and its flesh foreshadows that there is deception afoot, evoking tension in the reader.”

Now that you can select your appropriately dense and juicy quote and analyse it adequately, it’s time for the most important step: use the quote in an English essay correctly.


How to use your quote correctly in an English essay?

Firstly, we must understand the function of including a quote. A successful quote integration will demonstrate:

  • Your ability to textual analyse.

  • Your ability to understand how parts of the text contribute to your overall argument.

  • Your command of the English language.

  • Your ability to link concepts together logically.

This means you must:

  1. Address the question with a point you want to make. This is the most important element of a response. You must present an argument.

  2. Consider how your quote's effect supports this argument. Once you have broken down a quote about its deeper meaning, its impact on the reader and its contribution to the theme, how is this relevant to your opinion?

  3. Integrate the quote into the essay grammatically. Ensure you integrate the quote in a grammatically correct way. We have a separate blog post on this topic here: coming soon.

  4. Link the quote's textual analysis back to the question and your argument. You must explain how your textual analysis logically supports your English essay argument closely and carefully. Many students do not do this step and lose marks.

A good essay writing quote structure we like to teach at Simply English is the TQP structure. TQP stands for:

technique, quote, point.

This short acronym helps you remember to discuss a technique for each quote and relate its effect to your overall argument.

If you’re still not certain how this works, see it in action in our essay example below.


Essay Example (Human Experiences Related Text)

We will use Maya Angelou’s ‘Caged Bird’ to write one paragraph on the following Human Experiences question.

Question: The human experience is highly paradoxical. Discuss in relation to your text.

Each quote integrated was always paired with at least one technique and linked back to the overall argument.

Let's wrap up

Reading guides and sample essays make for a great starting point. However the only way to improve your own analysis essay writing is through practice and feedback.

Make sure you put the advice in this guide into practice in your next essay draft and hand it in to a teacher or tutor for valuable feedback!

For every 1000 word essay you write, 10,000 words would have been discarded. - a wise person (me)

Good luck with your HSC English essay writing journey!

- Anqi

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