Quoted text – how else are you to support your argument?


No doubt you’ve seen the Telegraph’s [in places] humorous take on Internet laws.  They’re all right but one is just plain ridiculous:

DeMyer’s Second Law of Internet Debating states:

Anyone who posts an argument on the internet which is largely quotations, can be very safely ignored and is deemed to have lost the argument before it has begun.

The whole point of any argument is that you base it on evidence.  At university, for example, you’d not get much credit for a diatribe with no footnotes or endnotes and no bibliography.  The whole point of debate and treatise writing is that quoted backup is necessary.  One asserts, supports, asserts, supports and so on.

If this law above is meant to refer to quotes by famous people, well it depends on the famous people, doesn’t it, within their given sphere?  I sometimes quote Wilson, Churchill and various Congressmen on matters of government but not necessarily on fly fishing.

Having said that, there are three traps to avoid:

1.  On sites known for their rash assumptions based on a certain fact which might have been uncovered, e.g. the Labour government’s use of immigration for political purposes, followed by “creative interpretations” and also known for lurid colours, capital letters and exclamation marks, this does not necessarily negate the fact nugget they’ve uncovered and which has done the rounds, which leads to point 2.

2.  If there is a fact which has come up, always check it for corroboration from what you know to be reputable sources or failing that, work down your list until you reach the dodgy sites.  If you haven’t found the corroboration by then, best to let it go.

3.  Sometimes, maybe often, a quote dutifully used by thousands of bloggers is shown to be either too small a sample from the surrounding text, out of context or misquoted.  Often a troll says it’s misquoted without offering evidence himself as to how it has been.

6 comments for “Quoted text – how else are you to support your argument?

  1. October 25, 2009 at 15:40

    All very sensible. It is annoying when someone just quotes reams of someone else’s work, but using a quote to illustrate your point is reasonable enough.

    • October 25, 2009 at 18:19

      I used to tell my students that they could use up to 30% of the essay in quotes but if they tried to include slabs of net material [this was in Russia], I’d give them a quick vocab test from the quotes.

  2. October 25, 2009 at 19:06

    With you on corroboration. It is annoying when all you read is cut and pasted stuff. College students in the UK were particularly guilty of this. I must say, 30% in quotes seems a lot. In A level lit essays, examiners stated that they preferred precise references to the book in question rather than quotes. At least that way they knew the student had read it!

  3. October 25, 2009 at 19:20


  4. October 25, 2009 at 21:14

    Ach I’m in no position to moralise on lifting stuff when it comes to teh Poor Mouth. An academic work would be a different kettle of fish though

  5. October 25, 2009 at 22:59

    Oh dear I think I need to consider myself chastised for quoting too much stuff… I do it that way to give credit to the person who wrote it rather than just change the text around and take the credit myself. Putting too many sources at the bottom of a personal blog makes it seem a little bit highbrow…

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