How to Make a Quote Sandwich

Finding a great excerpt from a text to support your argument is just the beginning! To use textual evidence effectively, you have to build a quote sandwich. Here's how!

Want it in writing? You can read about making quote sandwiches below!

Think about a sandwich. A turkey sandwich isn’t just turkey. A PB & J is more than peanut butter and jelly. The term quote sandwich will remind you that the quote goes in the middle of some other elements, the way turkey or peanut butter and jelly go in the middle of bread.

In fact, I want you to imagine a PB&J. Putting quotes into your essay without building quote sandwiches is just as bad an idea as trying to eat peanut butter and jelly out of your hands without the bread. A very sticky situation!

Here’s how to build your sandwich.

The first piece of bread that holds the quote is the context in which it appears.

Fiction

  • What action is occurring? Where are the characters?
  • What part of the story are we in? the beginning, rising action, climax, end?
  • Is it a line of dialogue? Who says it? In response to something someone else just said?
  • Is it a description? What is the situation?

Non-Fiction

  • Is it a quote from an expert? What are that person’s credentials? “Dr. Pamela Greeson, the director of student activities…”
  • Is it data? What’s the source? “According to researchers at Stanford University…”

Next comes your quote. It’s the most important part, but that doesn’t mean it’s the biggest. Think of peanut butter and jelly: they are no way near as thick as the bread! That would overwhelm your taste buds.

Keep your quote to about ⅕ to ¼ of the entire text of your body paragraph. Make sure to think of your citation as part of your quote. Don’t separate them in your brain. Wherever there’s a quote, there’s a citation! Your quote means nothing if someone else can’t verify that it’s correct! That’s like mixing up your own “mystery” butter in your bathtub and not telling anyone what’s in it. Trust me, no one’s going to eat that sandwich!

Now for the final piece of bread. And bear with me here because this is where my sandwich idea gets a little weird. Because you’re going to be closing up your sandwich with a HUGE piece of bread. Think Texas Toast!

The final piece of bread is your analysis. What does it all mean? Why is this part of the text helpful for your argument? Remember, your job is to use the quote in a significant way, not to just tell people it exists and move on!

Here’s a simple 3-pronged attack for your analysis:

  1. What does it say?

  2. How does it say it?

  3. Why does it support your argument

Start with the meaning. If you’re quoting from Macbeth or Lord of the Flies you’re probably going to have to explain some of the complex language. 

Next, show us how the author gets his or her meaning across. For literature, this might include pointing out literacy techniques or significant word choice.

For non-fiction, you might emphasize the credibility (or lack of credibility) of the source. Why should people believe this evidence?

Finally, connect the quote back to what you’re trying to prove. How does it support your topic sentence for this paragraph? How does is support your thesis? What’s the significance of this idea being expressed by this speaker? Spell out your argument clearly and convincingly! Don’t leave the reader to draw his or her own conclusions!

If you use one sentence for each of those analysis tasks, you’ll have three sentences of analysis. But you might need two to three sentences just to connect back to your argument! That means this recipe will easily get you between three and six sentences of analysis. That’s the big time!

See what I mean about a giant piece of bread? Your analysis should actually be the biggest part of your paragraph.

Now that you know how to build a quote sandwich, you have the hardest part covered!

If you use only one piece of evidence per body paragraph, just throw a topic and concluding sentence onto your quote sandwich and you’ve got your body paragraph ready to go!

If you’re using two or three quotes per body paragraph, just stack your quote sandwiches together and add a transition word or phrase to the context breads to make the sandwiches flow together.

That’s it for this Write Bite. I’m Megan, and I wish you happy writing (and happy eating)!