I come upon a lot of quotes in academic papers where the following is written:

Thus “[l]andscape is always being used as a medium for architectural ideas“ (Gilles 1986)

Why is l in square brackets? Does that mean that the author that cited this line, modified it to suit their point in the process?

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    This is really more of a question about written English than about academia. – Michael Seifert May 19 '17 at 18:23
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    I'm in agreement that this belongs in English Language & Usage, and is hardly exclusive to academic writing. – Fomite May 19 '17 at 20:48

Square brackets in quotes are usually used to indicate that a minor alteration has been made in order to make it more readable (e.g. to fit into the context that the quote is placed in) but that does not alter the intended meaning of the quote.

In your example, it probably means that the original quote had a capital letter, but has been re-written to fit its place in the middle of a sentence.

Another example would be if I wanted to quote your question. I could write

"[BirdMars] come[s] upon a lot of quotes in academic papers [...]"

to maintain the spirit of your quote while clarifying who the pronoun "I" refers to. The ellipsis in square brackets indicates that this is not the full quote.

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    …and in particular the presence of the brackets around the ellipsis indicate that the original text did not contain a literal ellipsis. – wchargin May 20 '17 at 2:28

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