How To Properly Use Quotes In Essays Punctuation

Formatting Direct Quotations Properly in MLA Format

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Using direct quotations involves using the exact words of others in your paper, and under the MLA format, you must format quotations differently depending on their length.

Short quotations are less than four lines of prose or three lines of verse (poetry)
Long quotations are more than four lines of prose or three lines of verse (poetry) and include multi-paragraph quotes.

In addition, you might sometimes need to add words to direct quotations for clarity, or omit words that are unnecessary from the quotation. In MLA format, certain formatting rules apply in these situations.

Short direct quotations in MLA format

Short direct quotations include prose that is no more than four lines or verse that is no more than three lines. To format these correctly in MLA format, there are a few rules you must follow.

  • Enclose the direct quotation in quotation marks.
  • Reference the original author or title (if no author) and page number or line number (verse).
  • Place punctuation after the parenthetical citation.
  • Place questions marks or exclamation points that are part of the quote inside the quotation marks; place them outside if not part of the original author’s words.
  • Include complete reference to the source on Works Cited page.

Examples:

  • According to Spools, sustainable weight loss is only possible through “continued dieting, regular exercising and vigilant monitoring of body weight” (289).
  • Sustainable weight loss is only possible through “continued dieting, regular exercising and vigilant monitoring of body weight” (Spools 289).
  • Some say that sustainable weight loss is only possible through “continued dieting, regular exercising and vigilant monitoring of body weight” (Spools 289), but other researchers disagree that this level of vigilance is necessary.
  • Is sustainable weight loss possible without engaging in “continued dieting, regular exercising and vigilant monitoring of body weight” (Spools 289)?

Short quotations that consist of verses from poetry are handled a little differently.

Breaks are notated with a “/,” and a space appears before and after the slash mark. In addition, the line of the verse is used instead of a page number for the parenthetical citation (unless the poem is quoted in a secondary source). Keep the capitalization of each line of verse intact after the slash mark.

Example:

  • Silverstein ends with “For the children, they mark, and the children, they know / The place where the sidewalk ends” (15-16).

Long direct quotations in MLA format

Long direct quotations consists of quotations that are longer than four lines of prose or three lines of verse, and the MLA format dictates how these are presented.

  • Use a free-standing block of text (block quote).
  • Omit the quotation marks.
  • Start the direct quotation on a new line.
  • Indent one inch from the left margin.
  • Indent the first word of paragraphs ONLY if quoting multiple paragraphs.
  • Use double spacing in the quotation.
  • Include parenthetical citation after the ending punctuation.

Examples:

Fitness and health guru Jillian Michaels stresses the importance of believing in yourself.

If you are citing poetry, maintain the original formatting to the best of your ability. Use poetry line numbers unless you are quoting something quoted in another source.

In his poem “The Sphinx,” Ralph Waldo Emerson personifies the sphinx as many different pieces of nature, and this shows the transcendental ideals Emerson often touted.

Uprose the merry Sphynx,

And crouched no more in stone,

She melted into purple cloud,

She silvered in the moon,

She spired into a yellow flame,

She flowered in blossoms red,

She flowed into a foaming wave,

She stood Monadnoc’s head. (120-128)

Showing changes to direct quotations in MLA format

Sometimes when you use direct quotations, you might need to add a word or words for clarity or omit portions of the quotation to shorten it or make it work within the context of your words. When this is necessary, you must show changes with brackets [ ], and show omissions of text with an ellipsis […].

When using brackets, place the words you add between the brackets.

  • According to Putz, “Some people [who are trying to lose weight] try one fad diet after another with little success because these diets do not promote sustainable or ongoing weight loss” (98).

When using an ellipsis to show the omission of words, put a space before and after it.

  • According to Jillian Michaels, success is within reach when you “Have establishment in yourself; trust in the significance of your life … [because] destiny is awaiting you (285).

Direct quotations should stay a small part of your research paper. Paraphrasing and summarizing information into your words is a larger part of including information from your sources. Understanding [URL]direct quotations versus indirect quotations[/writing-resources/punctuation/direct-versus-indirect-quotations] is important in presenting information.

Properly Punctuating Titles

Properly punctuating titles of literature, music, art, movies, and other works can be confusing, and the rules aren’t always consistent from resource to resource regarding this topic. Also, since mistakes are prevalent, we are so used to seeing the wrong punctuation that it actually looks right!

Here are some helpful hints on how to properly punctuate titles using capitalization, italics, underlining, and quotation marks.

Step 1, Capitalize Titles Correctly!

Although rules regarding correct title capitalization vary greatly, here are a few pointers to stand by:  Capitalize the first and last word in a title and every word in the title except articles and prepositions. Some suggest capitalizing prepositions five letters or more in length, and I agree with this simply because it looks better (hence, my business name is All About Writing instead of All about Writing).

Capitalizing involves only the first letter of the word, of course.

When to Use Italics: Titles of Larger Works

Italics indicate the title of a major or larger work. Use italics for titles such as books, novels, magazines, journals, newspapers, and book-length poems, collections and anthologies; CDs, albums, ballets, operas, and longer, classical music compositions; television series,  plays, movies, and films; video games; websites; and works of art and art exhibits.

Just remember, the title of any piece that stands alone as a single, unified work should be italicized.

What About Underlining?

In general, underlining and italics are used interchangeably, so the above rules for italics also apply for underlining.

However, when using the computer or typing, italics should always be used. Underlining should replace italics in handwritten projects only, as who has mastered the art of writing in italics so that it is legible and noticeable?

When to Use Quotation Marks: Titles of Smaller Works

Since quotation marks are tiny, you can remember that they are used for smaller works within the larger work or collection. Use quotation marks for titles of poems, short stories, book chapters, and articles in journals, magazines, and newspapers; and songs, single television episodes, and commercials.

It is important to be consistent throughout your writing with properly using italics versus quotation marks. Writing handbooks (Chicago Manual of Style, MLA, APA, and many others) vary in their rules for capitalizing and punctuating titles. Certain writing projects mandate using one writing handbook’s format over the others, so for academic work, please check with your professor as to the preferred handbook to use for your writing, citation, and punctuation guidelines.

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