How to Format for Paragraphs With Dialogue

Dialogue in the English language has certain widely accepted rules of formatting that people use when writing. The common format helps the reader keep track of which character is speaking, but prevents repetitive language that can be distracting or annoying. Mastering the rules of formatting enables you to improve your writing and to craft more effective dialogue.

Give each character his own paragraph in the dialogue and start the paragraph with an indent. When you include a description of a character's actions, put that description in the same paragraph as his spoken lines, whether the description precedes or follows the speech. Enclose the quotes with quotation marks. For example:

"Come, Watson, come! The game is afoot. Not a word! Into your clothes and come!" "Very well, Holmes." I pulled on my waistcoat and followed him.

Use attribution tags to identify the speaker. An attribution tag is a phrase such as "he said," "Holmes cried," or "we exclaimed." You can place the attribution tag at the beginning, end or middle of a spoken line. For example:

"Come, Watson, come!" he cried. "The game is afoot. Not a word! Into your clothes and come!" "Very well, Holmes," I mumbled, barely awake. I pulled on my waistcoat and followed him.

Replace a period that precedes an attribution tag with a comma. Use a comma after any attribution tag that precedes a quote. Omit attribution tags whenever they do not provide extra information. When it is obvious who is speaking, or the tag's verb does not elucidate the speaker's delivery, feel free to present the spoken lines alone. The following are legitimate ways of constructing a dialogue paragraph:

He cried, "Come, Watson, come! The game is afoot." "Come, Watson, come!" he cried. "The game is afoot." "Come, Watson, come! The game," he cried, "is afoot." "Come, Watson, come! The game is afoot," he cried.

  • Use "said," without any adverbs, for most of your attribution tags. Use more colorful terms sparingly. Try to convey emotion through the spoken words themselves.
About the Author

Mark Keller has been writing everything from short stories to political commentary over the course of the past decade. He has written professionally since 2009 with articles appearing on,, and various other websites. He is a theater major at Hillsdale College in Michigan.