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How to Incorporate Lyrics Into an Essay


Lyrics can be effective tools in an essay. You may want to cite lyrics, because a song writer says something in an eloquent way, or the excerpt solidifies a point you’re trying to make. You are allowed to quote a portion of a song under the fair use doctrine of the United States copyright law, but the law doesn’t specify exactly how many words or what percentage of a song you can use. You can use a limited portion of a song for your research paper, but it must be acknowledged though in-text citations and a listing in your works cited or reference page.

Quotations and In-Text Citations

When incorporating lyrics into an essay, put the lyrics inside quotation marks. Short quotations can be integrated into a sentence, such as, “In the song ‘Hey Jude,’ the Beatles sing…” followed by the lyrics in quotation marks. Long quotations, or those that are four lines or longer, need to be set off in a block quote, where you indent the entire quote from the paragraph above it. To cite the lyrics in Modern Language Association format, write the artists’ name in parentheses, such as (The Beatles), followed by the ending punctuation. To cite in American Psychological Association format, include the artist, copyright date and track number in parentheses, such as (The Beatles, 1968, track 1). Note the comma between the artist and year and between the year and track number.

Reference List

Include the details of the recording in your works cited or references page. In MLA format, include the artist’s name, song title, album name, name of the recording manufacturer, publication date and the sound recording medium, for example:

The Beatles. “Hey Jude.” Hey Jude: The U. S. Album (italicized). Capitol, 2014. CD.

Citing this recording in APA style is slightly different, so follow the example:

The Beatles. (2014). Hey Jude. On Hey Jude: The U. S. Album (italicize the album name) [CD]. Los Angeles: Capitol (Recorded 1968).

About the Author

Cara Batema is a musician, teacher and writer who specializes in early childhood, special needs and psychology. Since 2010, Batema has been an active writer in the fields of education, parenting, science and health. She holds a bachelor's degree in music therapy and creative writing.

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