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Finding Quotations

Free Online Resources

Search Engines

Shawn Miller, photographer. Researchers at work in the Main Reading Room of the Library of Congress, view towards reference book alcoves. 2016. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division.

When using an online search engine, we recommend that you:

  • Use quotation marks. Enclosing a phrase in quotation marks will return results with the words you searched exactly how you typed them in order.
  • Break your quotation into smaller phrases. It's possible that the version of the quotation you start with, even if widely quoted, can include one incorrect or missing word; don't assume you have the quotation verbatim. Break up long quotations into shorter phrases to increase the likelihood of finding the correct quotation, and choose unique key words and phrases that best define what you're looking for.
  • Use a wildcard to specify unknown and variable words. If you are unsure of the entire phrase or are trying to find all forms of a quotation, using a wildcard will return variations (e.g. "blood is * than water"). Wildcards vary by search engine or database; in Google, use an asterisk (*).  Check the help section of the search engine or database to find the correct wildcard.
  • Exclude words. If you are generating a lot of irrelevant results, you can use the minus sign (-) in many search engines to eliminate results with specific words (e.g., Bears -Chicago will eliminate results with the word Chicago and filter out information about the football team).
  • Limit your sources. Use "scoping," or limiting the sources you are searching to a particular category, to find certain types of quotations. For instance, if you know the quotation is from a work of fiction or from a memoir, try searching digitized books rather than using a general search engine.

Quotation Reference Websites

There are many specialized websites that exist specifically for researching quotations. Keep in mind, however, that many of these websites do not cite an original source. These online sources can be used as a starting point to find a quotation, but you should still find and verify the original source.

Specialized Online Resources

Narrow the focus of your quotation search by "scoping," or limiting the sources you are searching to a particular type or format.

Ebook Archives/ Book Search Engines

Print materials not only may include the quotation you are researching, but these materials also often include citation information that may be helpful. Several sources allow you to search the full text of books online:

Newspaper Archives

Search full-text historical newspapers to find early or original uses of a phrase.

Local libraries, historical societies, and archives also may provide access to local digitized newspapers. As examples, see:

Personal Papers and Archives

Search online archives and digitized personal papers associated with prominent figures, such as:

Speeches

Search the full text or listen to audio files of famous speeches to find quotations from the original source. Keep in mind, of course, that the person giving the speech may have borrowed language from another source.