Quadratic forms capture multivariate information in a single number, making them useful, for example, in hypothesis testing. When a quadratic form is large and hence interesting, it might be informative to partition the quadratic form into contributions of individual variables. In this paper it is argued that meaningful partitions can be formed, though the precise partition that is determined will depend on the criterion used to select it. An intuitively reasonable criterion is proposed and the partition to which it leads is determined. The partition is based on a transformation that maximises the sum of the correlations between individual variables and the variables to which they transform under a constraint. Properties of the partition, including optimality properties, are examined. The contributions of individual variables to a quadratic form are less clear-cut when variables are collinear, and forming new variables through rotation can lead to greater transparency. The transformation is adapted so that it has an invariance property under such rotation, whereby the assessed contributions are unchanged for variables that the rotation does not affect directly. Application of the partition to Hotelling's one- and two-sample test statistics, Mahalanobis distance and discriminant analysis is described and illustrated through examples. It is shown that bootstrap confidence intervals for the contributions of individual variables to a partition are readily obtained.