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The Quotations Page

Wondering how to quote properly in your own writing? This guide will teach you the MLA guidelines for proper quoting and citation.  Here’s the index:

Section A: The Basic Formats

Section B: Checklist for all Quotations in Section A

Section C: Specific Checklists for Quotations in Section A

Section D: Block Quotations

Section E: Quoting PoetrySection F: Ellipses

Section G: Using Square Brackets

Section H: Minor Rules and Variations

Section I: General Advice


Section A: The Basic Formats

Does your quotation generally look like one of the following examples?  Click on a link to read the specific criteria.

A1. The short expression:
Jonathan Truculent writes, “The best part of a pizza is the crust” (page 314).

A2. The formal introduction:
In his latest book, I.M.A. Fuhl unabashedly states his ignorance about style: “I don’t know anything about quotations” (25).

A3. The run-in quotation:
Brian Buchanan admits that he knows very little “about the effects of global warming” (275).

A4. The run-in quotation with continuation:
Brian Buchanan admits that he knows very little “about the effects of global warming” (275), but he goes on to offer his opinion on the subject anyway.

If your quotation does not look anything like these examples, check the minor variations listed below (section D). If none of the variations fit your quotation you are in trouble and you need to rewrite your quotation to make it fit one of these models. If you think it does, go through the checklists below to make sure you’ve done things correctly.


Section B: Checklist for all quotations in section A

∆ Is your quotation introduced by your own words (the signal phrase)?
(In academic writing quotations should generally not start off the sentence, and they should never stand alone.)

∆ Have you used curved quotes (correct: “…”) instead of straight quotes (incorrect: “…”)?

∆ Have you used double quotes (correct: “…”) instead of single quotes (incorrect: ‘…’)?

∆ Have you put a space after the last quotation mark and before the parenthetical citation?

∆ Have you made it clear who the author is, either in the context to your quotation or in the parentheses?

∆ Have you removed all final punctuation from the quotation, except for question marks or exclamation marks?

∆ Is your quotation 3 lines or shorter in the body of your essay?
(If longer, you need to indent the quotation according to the rules in section D)


Section C: Specific checklists for quotations in section A

A1. The short expression:

∆ Does your signal phrase include at least a subject and a verb (e.g., He suggests?)
∆ Does your signal phrase end with a comma?
∆ If your quotation starts at the beginning of a sentence in the original context, have you kept the capital?
∆ Is the quotation a complete sentence?
∆ Have you put the appropriate closing punctuation after the parentheses (period or question mark) rather than at the end of the quotation?

A2. The formal introduction:

∆ Are both the quotation and your introduction complete sentences? (the exception is if the quotation is an appositive noun)
∆ Does your quotation start with a capital?
∆ Does your introductory phrase end with a colon?

A3. The run-in quotation:

∆ Do your words combine with the quotation to form a complete sentence?
∆ Have you left out all punctuation before the quotation?

A4. The run-in quotation with continuation:

∆ Do your words combine with the quotation to form a complete sentence?
∆ Have you left out all punctuation before the quotation?
∆ Have you put the parentheses immediately after the quotation?
∆ Have you put punctuation after the parentheses as appropriate? (try to avoid using a semi-colon in this context)

Warning: do not continue your sentence if you quotation is more than a few words long or if you are not sure that your sentence will be a complete sentence if you continue.


Section D: Block Quotations

∆ Is your quotation longer than three lines in the body of your essay?

If yes, do the following: introduce it with your own words (preferably with a formal introduction), as in the following example:

I have always found Ellen Grammar to be extremely repetitive, as she shows in this passage from Why I Love Quotations:

Let me repeat myself for clarity. This is a quotation. This is a quotation. This is a quotation.  This is a quotation. This is a quotation. This is a Quotation. This is a quotation. This is a quotation. This is a quotation. This is a quotation. This is a quotation. This is a quotation. This is a quotation. This is a quotation. This is a quotation. This is a quotation. This is a quotation. This is a quotation. This is a quotation. This is a quotation.  (315)

Note the lack of quotation marks, the left indentation, and the period before the parentheses (and not after).


Section E: Quoting Poetry

∆ Are you quoting poetry? Here are the essential rules:

∆ If you are quoting 2 or 3 lines of poetry, use slashes to indicate line breaks.

E.g.: Blake depicts the lamb as being dependent on its maker, for he asks the lamb whether it knows who gave it “clothing of delight, / Softest clothing wooly bright” (5-6).

Make sure you put a space on either side of the slash. Delete the punctuation at the end of the quotation (unless the punctuation is an exclamation or question mark).

∆ If you are quoting 4 or more lines of poetry you must use a block quotation.  Do not use slashes but copy each line on a separate line just as it appears in your source.  Make sure you still provide an introductory sentence.  Keep all the punctuation that appeared in the poem and make sure that all the lines are indented one tab.  Here is an example:

The climax of “The Tyger” comes in the penultimate stanza, where Blake asks whether the lamb and the tiger were made by the same creator:

When the stars threw down their spears
And water’d heaven with their tears;
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee? (17-20)

Notice that no quotation marks are used.  In addition, if the final punctuation mark of the quotation is anything other than a exclamation or question mark, you may change it or add a period.  There is no punctuation after the parentheses.


Section F: Ellipses

∆ Sometimes when you quote you may want to skip parts of the quotation.  To indicate the omission of words, phrases, or entire lines, you must use an ellipses: three spaced periods.

Example: Blake argues in “Holy Thursday” (1794) that “where-e’er the sun does shine . . . Babe can never hunger there, / Nor poverty the mind appall” (13, 15-16).

Notice that the ellipses here takes the place of a line break (a /); in other words, you don’t need to use both.  Make sure that the grammatical integrity of your quoted sentence is not compromised.

∆ Generally you do not have to add ellipses marks at the beginning or end of a quotation.  The only exception is if you have cut some words at the end of a sentence or line quoted.

∆ If you indent a longer quotation of poetry and you skip one or more lines, use a full line of dots between the quoted lines.

∆ Some writers prefer to put the ellipses marks in square brackets to indicate that they are not part of the original text.

∆ If you are quoting prose and you delete more than a sentence in the quoted passage, use a period before the three ellipses dots.


Section G: Using Square Brackets

∆ You can add to or edit quotations by inserting your own words in square brackets.  Here are some areas in which this is useful:

∆ When you want to clarify something in the quotation.  E.g., Blake argues in “Holy Thursday” (1794) that “where-e’er [wherever] the sun does shine . . . Babe can never hunger there [in England]” (13, 15).

∆ When you want to capitalize a word or vice versa.  E.g., Blake writes in “Holy Thursday” (1794), “[W]here-e’er the sun does shine . . . Babe can never hunger there” (13, 15).

∆ When you need to add some words to make the grammar work.  You can substitute these words for existing words in the quotation.  E.g., Blake writes about children in “Holy Thursday” (1794) that “where-e’er the sun does shine . . . [they] can never hunger there” (13, 15).

∆ If there’s a mistake in the quotation (let’s say a spelling error), you can insert [sic] behind it to indicate that the mistake belongs to the original author of the quotation.

In general, try to minimize the use of square brackets.


Section H: Minor Rules and Variations

∆ For your first citation in an essay you should indicate whether it’s a page number of line number.  (e.g., page 315).  After that you can just supply the number and leave out the word “page” or “line(s).”   However, if you’re switching back and forth between formats (pages, paragraphs, lines, etc.) you may want to provide further clarification in the course of your writing.


Section I: General Advice

∆ Outside or secondary sources are anything beyond the novel, poem, etc. that you are analyzing.  They include comments by the author (in letters, diaries, etc.), commentary by critics in books and journal articles, or background information in reference books (biographical information, historical information, etc.).

∆ Remember that this is YOUR essay. Your instructor does not want to read an interpretation that he/she can find in the library or on the internet. You are using outside sources for the following reasons:

1.To provide historical or other background information
2.To provide support for your interpretation, either from other things written by the author of the novel/poem you are analyzing, or from critics
3.To note a contrary view that you are taking issue with

∆ Make sure never to allow outside commentary to swamp your own analysis. Do not produce a string of quotations.

∆ Make sure that EVERY quotation is properly introduced. Be sure to explain, interpret, and apply quotations before you move on in your analysis.

∆ You do not need to go to an outside source for anything you have gleaned yourself from reading the text. This applies especially to plot summary.

∆ You do not need to cite sources for common knowledge, facts that you will find in any source, such as Margaret Atwood’s birth date or the date of the outbreak of the French Revolution.

∆ You DO need to cite any sources that have provided you with opinions, little-known facts, interpretations, or information not readily available elsewhere (and which may not even be correct – that’s why it is as well to read several sources)

∆ Using a signal phrase is especially important when you paraphrase (putting the source material entirely into your own words). The signal phrase marks the beginning of the paraphrase and the citation parentheses mark the end. Your reader thus knows exactly how much of your text is paraphrase.