I used a quote in my essay that I got from the rubric for the assignment. How do I cite it? I know it's like citing a handout but who’s the author, the teacher or the person who said the quote (Napoleon Bonaparte)?

  • Do you know who said it?
    – Hot Licks
    Apr 3 '18 at 0:11
  • 1
    Napoleon Bonaparte
    – Alice
    Apr 3 '18 at 0:12
  • So, credit Napoleon. If you need a text citation you can surely find the quote by Googling it.
    – Hot Licks
    Apr 3 '18 at 0:13
  • 1
    What style guide are you using?
    – Laurel
    Apr 3 '18 at 1:01
  • 1
    You can just say in the body of essay, As Napoleon Bonaparte once said [etc.]. You don't need a footnote for that. That said, you have to decide whether you are quoting the quote in quote marks (inverted commas, for the BrE speakers) or just saying something close to it.
    – Lambie
    Apr 5 '18 at 0:01

it should always be the original person who stated it. It should also include the year it was said/printed

eg: (Brown, 1988)


The purpose of citing a source is to convey to the reader that one found the information, for which the citation is given, in that source. By citing a source, a writer vouches that the source really contains the information in question. That means that one should always cite the source that one has actually consulted. For example, if the source is a book, one should have actually had the book in one’s hands: if one hasn't done so, one cannot vouch that it really contains that information. If the source is electronic, one has to have had it appear on the screen in front of oneself.

When one uses a source to get the information about something that appears in yet another source, and one hasn’t actually consulted the latter, one’s citation should make it clear that this is the case. For example, if one quotes Green’s words on the basis of how they appear in Brown’s book, the citation should be something like

Green _______, as quoted by Brown _______,


Brown _______, quoting Green _______,

where the blanks are filled with the bibliographical information about the relevant sources, in whatever format one follows otherwise. The bibliographical data about Green's text may, in such a case, be based on Brown's citation to it.

This way of citing makes it clear that one cannot vouch that this is what Green actually wrote, because one hasn't seen Green's words as they appeared originally. The only thing that one vouches for by such a citation is that this is how Brown presented Green's words, and this is the only thing that one can vouch for, given that it is only Brown's book that one has held in one's hands.

Why is it important to mention Brown's book in the citation, rather than simply cite to Green's text, if one hasn't actually seen the latter?

First, suppose that it turns out that Brown misquoted Green. If one has provided a proper citation, of the kind that is outlined above, it will be clear that the mistake is Brown’s, and that one is not responsible for it.

Second, if one were to cite Green without mentioning Brown, one would be misrepresenting the research that one has done. One would be leading one's readers to think that one has taken the trouble to consult Green's text in its original form (that the citation is to), which is not what one has actually done. Among serious scholars, such a misrepresentation would be frowned upon.

Thus, in OP's example, the citation should make it clear both that the words are Napoleon's, and that they are quoted on the basis of such-and-such course handout; the details will depend on whatever the prescribed citation style for the assignment is. Incidentally, when a student has a question about an assignment, it is usually a much better strategy to direct it to the instructor, than to some strangers on the Internet. The instructor can answer it in the way that is tailored to the specifics of the assignment, while a site such as this one can only give an answer in terms of general principles. Any responsible instructor will know that is a part of the job of teaching to answer such questions.


An example, using MLA style with in-text citation:

... A notable opponent of torture was Napoleon Bonaparte, who famously wrote, "The barbarous custom of having men beaten who are suspected of having important secrets to reveal must be abolished" (Bonaparte). Other well-known generals who disdained torture included...

Works Cited

Bonaparte, Napoléon. Napoléon Bonaparte to Louis Alexandre Berthier. November 11th, 1798. In Correspondance de Napoleon Ier (1858-70). Edited by Henri Plon. 128. Reprinted, Vol. V, no. 3605. AMS Press, 1974. Translated by Jay Luvaas. In Napoleon on the Art of War. Edited by Jay Luvaas. The Free Press, 1999. 11.

I can't guarantee that everything is completely correct. In fact, the citation is so convoluted I doubt MLA (or even the Chicago Manual of Style, which is arguably the most detailed style manual) has a standard for something like that. In such a case one must take one's best guess, given the rules that do exist.

How convoluted is it? Well, Napoléon wrote this in a letter to his chief of staff Berthier. The letter was published, in French, in a collection of Napoléon's letters edited by Henri Plon. This very collection, in French, was reprinted in the U.S. in 1974. Finally, the quote was translated by Jay Luvaas and included in his edited collection of sayings of Napoléon, and it is there where I got it.

Some resources that I found helpful

For MLA-style citations:

This is specifically for citing letters in MLA style (but it is a bit dated; note that new MLA recommendations no longer mandate including the city of publication unless the publication date is prior to 1900).

This is for general MLA citations.

For sourcing quotes by Napoléon:

His Wikiquote page.

And of course google books.

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