thesis know how – beware the quote dump

Another wonderful suite of insights from Pat Thomson (of course). This one resonates a lot with my post on quotitis – over-quoting from data…


I very often see first drafts of theses – and sometimes completed ones – which suffer from quote dumping. A quote dump is when the writer inserts a very large extract of someone else’s words into a text and then does nothing with it. The quote sits there, highly visible in its indented and italicised state, inert, unyielding, impenetrable.

The quote dump often occurs in literature chapters and/or when the thesis writer is discussing theoretical literatures. It’s sometimes used when people are explaining their methodology. It can happen when people genuinely attempt to engage with other people’s words and ideas and either challenge them, evaluate them or make them into foundations for their own research.

While quote dumping might have been the way to get good marks in essays in undergraduate and Masters work, it is a learned strategy that doesn’t fly so well in a doctoral thesis. Yes, the…

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3 thoughts on “thesis know how – beware the quote dump

  1. Ian

    Another gem from PT, thanks for sharing Nick. I’m interested in approaches to use of quotes from participants in qualitiatve research, where the voice/experience of participants is important. I imagine much of what PT wrote about quoting literature would be also applicable to quotes from participants (eg. does it stand in for real comprehension, quotes don’t speak for themselves).

    What kind of questions should you ask yourself before including a participant quote? Do you have any suggestions on their use? What kind of quote types are there? On this last one, sometimes quotes seem to give information (ie. data) but also important analytical reflection too. Thanks for any advice.

    1. nickhopwood Post author

      Hi Ian

      Thanks for your comment. You might find my blog post on Quotitis relevant:

      I appreciate that participants’ voices are often important, and in some modes of research particularly so. However, my view is that as a reader of research, what I’m typically most interested in is what you, the researcher, make of the data. I often feel short-changed if the author relies too much on direct presentation of raw data, under cover of ‘this is authentic participants’ voice’ or similar. That can, at times, become an act of reporting rather than really analysing: for me the value add is often in what the researcher makes of what participants have said. As I mentioned, there are some instances where more raw data (as ‘participant voice’) might be merited.

      If the point is participants’ experiences (rather than voices) as valuable, then I think quotitis is a real risk. One statement doesn’t ‘represent’ an experience in the same way as it does ‘voice’.

      In both cases, as you’ll read in my blog, I’m not convinced quote as ‘proof’ or quote as mere ‘illustration’ really works.

      So to your questions.
      Before including a quote, I would ask: What does this quote tell the reader that I haven’t already said? What does it enable me to say that I couldn’t say otherwise? How will I introduce it to explain why it is being presented (other than the very boring: here’s a theme, and for example…)? What commentary on/interpretation of the quote will I offer?

      So yes, you’ll see that I’m very interested in what quotes enable in terms of analytical reflection, rather than just as giving information.

      Does this help?



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