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How to Write a Quote in an Essay


Properly placed quotes add power and detail to your essay writing. Putting the right expert observation in the right place can make an essay shine. Don't allow improper formatting to distract your reader. Proper formatting of quotes, attributions and citations differs slightly depending on whether you are using Modern Language Association or American Psychological Association style, but general principles apply to both. Check with your instructor to determine the precise style desired.

Format Your Quote

Begin and end short quotations with double quotation marks. Do not leave a space between the quotation marks and the text. Only the exact words of your source and the punctuation of the quote itself should be inside the quotation marks. Separate lines of poetry with a space, a forward slash and another space.

Quotations that are longer than four lines of prose or three lines of poetry are formatted as "block" quotes. Use a colon at the end of the phrase that leads to the quote. Begin the quote on a new line, indent the entire quote one inch farther than the body of your text and do not use quotation marks.

Additions and Deletions

A quote must be the source's exact words, but sometimes you will only need the most relevant words. If you are omitting a section of a quote, indicate this by using ellipses, otherwise known as "three little dots." Always use a space before and after an ellipses. If your ellipses comes at the end of a sentence, end the sentence with a period first. If the quoted material that follows begins in the middle of a sentence and was not capitalized in the original, use a capital in brackets to indicate the change while making the sentence correct. If you need to add a couple of words within a quote to clarify something, put your own words in brackets.

"This study contains the definitive proof we've been looking for. ... [T]ail feathers are an important factor in peacock mate selection."

"I think [Smithville Mayor] Joe [Johnson] knows more than he's telling."

Basic In-text Citation, MLA Style

In-text citations are essential in any nonfiction writing. They are shorthand that allows the reader to locate more information about your source on your works cited page. In MLA style, a parenthetical citation contains the author's last name and the page number where the quote can be found: (Smith 97). You can omit the author's name if you've already identified her as the person speaking or writing, and just use the page number within parentheses. If you're quoting more than one Smith, include a first initial; if you're quoting more than one book by Smith, include a shortened version of this book's title. Parenthetical citations belong outside the last set of quotation marks, before the punctuation that ends the sentence for a short quote and following it for a block quote.

Other Types of Sources

If you are quoting a work with no known author, use a shortened version of the title of the work in your parenthetical citation, putting this in quotation marks if it's an article or short work and in italics if it is a full-length book. If you're citing a website, omit page numbers. The important thing is that the first word of your citation be the same as the first word of the work's entry on your works cited page, so the reader can find it easily.

Citing Multiple Authors, Multi-Volume Works or Classics

If you're citing a work by three or more authors, use all last names in your initial citation; after that, you can name just the first one and use the phrase et al as shorthand for including the rest. If you're citing an encyclopedia or similar work that has multiple volumes, include the volume number. In citing the Bible, identify the version in your first mention, followed by book, chapter and verse. If you're citing a work that has been reprinted many times with different pagination, follow your page number with a colon and a little more information: (Kipling, 53: Ch. 6).

Basic In-Text Citation, APA Style

APA style requires the author's name, page number and year of publication to be part of the in-text citation. You can include all of this information within parentheses (Smith, 1988, p. 273) or use some of it in your sentence before the quote: Smith (1988) observed that "the penguins seemed confused by the nuclear explosion" (p. 273). If you're citing an electronic source, use the title of the section or page the work is on and a paragraph number with the abbreviation "para."

About the Author

Anne Pyburn Craig has written for a range of regional and local publications ranging from in-depth local investigative journalism to parenting, business, real estate and green building publications. She frequently writes tourism and lifestyle articles for chamber of commerce publications and is a respected book reviewer.

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