Formatting Direct Quotations Properly in MLA Format
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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
Guidelines for Incorporating Quotes
Incorporating Outside Sources
Quoting from outside sources is an important part of academic writing because it puts you into the scholarly conversation and makes your own ideas and your paper more credible. Using quotes is a great way for readers to “hear” the expert voices talking about your writing topic.
When quoting, focus on (a) introducing the quote, (b) explaining its relevance, and (c) citing the sources—both in your writing and in formal citations. This form is known as the ICE method.
The ICE Method
When including outside sources in your writing, follow the ICE method:
- I: Introduce
- C: Cite
- E: Explain
Use this method when inserting direct quotations as well as when you’re paraphrasing or summarizing the ideas of another.
Introduce the Source
Introduce the source by giving your reader any information that would be useful to know: Who said it? Where did this idea come from? When was it said? Here are some examples of how to introduce a source:
- In her essay, “The Crummy First Draft,” Lekkerkerk (2014) argues that…
- Michandra Claire Jones (2015), celebrated poet and author, wrote that…
- In the textbook, Information Literacy, Mossler (2015) states…
After introducing the quote, be sure that you use a signal verb to indicate that the source’s words are next. In the third example above, you can see that "states" has been used to signal the source’s words. Other signal verbs include:
Cite the Source
When citing outside sources, you are required to include: the author(s)' last name(s); the date of publication; and, for direct quotations, the page number on which the quoted passage appears. If there is no page number, use the paragraph number to indicate the location of the quotation.
Precisely how do you insert this required information into your writing? You have two options. The first is to include the full or last name(s) of the author(s) directly in a sentence, and the year of publication in parentheses just following the name(s). If directly quoting, include at the end of your sentence the page number where the quotation can be found. Here are some examples:
- Johansson (2009) says he believes that scholars...OR
- Norman Johansson (2009) says, “Scholars should pursue PhDs” (p. 167).
Your second option is to include all of the required information in parenthesis at the end of the sentence. Here are some examples:
- Research suggests that graphic warnings on cigarette packages promote smoking cessation (Smith, 2015).OR
- According to one research study, “In the year following the introduction of graphic warnings…” (Smith, 2015, p. 16).OR
- Marcus explains that smoking can be deterred by “carefully placed warnings with disturbing imagery included” (Tomlinson, 2008, p. 16).
Notice in the above examples that quotation marks always have a beginning and end, occurring immediately before the first word of the quotation and immediately after the last word. Periods are always placed after the end-of-sentence parentheses, as in (p. 132).
After introducing and citing the passage, you will need to explain the significance: How might this author’s idea relate to my thesis? How does this data add to what I am trying to prove in this paragraph? Why am I putting this quotation in my paper? What am I trying to show here? Never leave any room for interpretation. It is your responsibility as the writer to interpret the information for your reader and identify its significance. Remember, a quote does not speak for itself or prove anything on its own. That is your job!
Here is an example of an explanation that would be appropriate to accompany the Mack quotation above: Judge Mack viewed juveniles as children first. He envisioned a system that would protect and give treatment to these young offenders so that they could become productive adults, and saw no place for criminal responsibility and punishment within this system.
Now, here is an example of the ICE method at work in a paragraph:
In the beginning stages of the juvenile justice system, it operated in accordance to a paternalistic philosophy. This can be understood through the published words of Judge Julian Mack, who had a hand in the establishment of the juvenile justice system. In 1909, he stated that this system should treat juveniles “as a wise and merciful father handles his own child” (as cited in Scott & Steinberg, 2008, p.16). Judge Mack viewed juveniles as children first. He envisioned a system that would protect and give treatment to these young offenders so that they could become productive adults, and saw no place for criminal responsibility and punishment within this system.
Five Tips for Effective Quoting
While quoting from reliable sources is an important part of writing a research-based paper, some students can become too reliant on quotes to do the work for them, over-running their papers with other peoples’ words. The purpose of quoting is to include an expert’s voice that is unique and different from your own in order to support your ideas.
Here are five key tips for effectively incorporating quotes into your writing:
- Make Quotes Count. You should quote sparingly, so make sure the quotes you include are impactful and approach the subject in a way that you might not. Part of quoting is “capturing” someone else’s voice and unique expression of an idea. If you could summarize the information and lose none of its meaning, then do that. But if you feel like the expert says it best, then quote the expert.
- Copy Quotes Correctly. It is important to be accurate when you are quoting – the whole point of quoting is to exactly represent another person’s words. Be careful to copy the quote correctly, and if you need to change anything, do so by indicating that you are changing something. If you need to insert a word, for instance, use brackets, like this: “In this quote [the author] states that people always rise to the occasion.” If you need to delete a word or phrase, use ellipses to represent this deletion, like this: “In this quote…people always rise to the occasion.”
- Your Words First. Because you are writing the paper, your words should begin and end it – this goes for the paragraphs as well as the whole paper. Avoid beginning paragraphs with a quote – start with your idea and create a topic sentence. Additionally, avoid ending paragraphs with a quote – you may analyze a quote prior to the end of the sentence, and conclude that its meaning informs your point. Use your words first – quotes should be working for you, not the other way around.
- Keep Quotes Short. Quoting sources should not be a tactic to fill space on the page. Not only should your paper be written in your own words, but the amount of space given to others’ words should be brief. As a general rule of thumb, no more than 15% of your entire paper should be quoted material. Achieve this general goal by using only a few quotes, and keeping those few quotes as brief as 1–2 sentences.
- “Block” Long Quotes. When your paper necessitates it, you may use a longer quote. In this case, “longer” quotes consist of four or more lines, or approximately 40+ words. When you have a quote of this length, you format it differently in your paper than just incorporating it into the normal sentence structure. Long quotes must be made into “blocks” – a visual indicator that this is a long quote. In order to create this block, indent all the lines twice, but keep the double-spacing.
Here’s an example of creating a block quotation:
Sometimes peoples’ viewpoints can be surprising. According to Robert Coles in his 1989 book, The Call of Stories,
On the way home Daddy became an amateur philosopher; he said God chooses some people to be rich, and that’s how it is, and you have to settle for your luck, and ours isn’t all that good, so that’s too bad, but if you just smile and keep going, then you’ll be fine; it’s when you eat your heart out that you can get in trouble. (41)
NOTE: When you create a block quotation, you do two things differently than if you’re incorporating shorter quotes into your sentence regularly.
- First, you do not encase the quote in quotation marks – the indentation replaces the quotation marks.
- Second, you punctuate the quoted material with a period before the parenthetical citation – with no ending punctuation after the parentheses.
- leaves us with
- points to
- tells us
- wants to
- I: Introduce speaker and why he is an authority on this topic.
- C: Quote material along with citation.
- E: Explain who this quote is coming from as well as his relationship or authority on the topic.