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How To Use Quotations In A Research Paper

MLA Formatting Quotations


MLA (Modern Language Association) style is most commonly used to write papers and cite sources within the liberal arts and humanities. This resource, updated to reflect the MLA Handbook (8th ed.), offers examples for the general format of MLA research papers, in-text citations, endnotes/footnotes, and the Works Cited page.

Contributors: Tony Russell, Allen Brizee, Elizabeth Angeli, Russell Keck, Joshua M. Paiz, Michelle Campbell, Rodrigo Rodríguez-Fuentes, Daniel P. Kenzie, Susan Wegener, Maryam Ghafoor, Purdue OWL Staff
Last Edited: 2018-01-06 01:54:24

When you directly quote the works of others in your paper, you will format quotations differently depending on their length. Below are some basic guidelines for incorporating quotations into your paper. Please note that all pages in MLA should be double-spaced.

Short quotations

To indicate short quotations (four typed lines or fewer of prose or three lines of verse) in your text, enclose the quotation within double quotation marks. Provide the author and specific page citation (in the case of verse, provide line numbers) in the text, and include a complete reference on the Works Cited page. Punctuation marks such as periods, commas, and semicolons should appear after the parenthetical citation. Question marks and exclamation points should appear within the quotation marks if they are a part of the quoted passage but after the parenthetical citation if they are a part of your text.

For example, when quoting short passages of prose, use the following examples:

According to some, dreams express "profound aspects of personality" (Foulkes 184), though others disagree.

According to Foulkes's study, dreams may express "profound aspects of personality" (184).

Is it possible that dreams may express "profound aspects of personality" (Foulkes 184)?

When short (fewer than three lines of verse) quotations from poetry, mark breaks in short quotations of verse with a slash, ( / ), at the end of each line of verse (a space should precede and follow the slash).

Cullen concludes, "Of all the things that happened there / That's all I remember" (11-12).

Long quotations

For quotations that are more than four lines of prose or three lines of verse, place quotations in a free-standing block of text and omit quotation marks. Start the quotation on a new line, with the entire quote indented ½ inch from the left margin; maintain double-spacing. Only indent the first line of the quotation by an additional quarter inch if you are citing multiple paragraphs. Your parenthetical citation should come after the closing punctuation mark. When quoting verse, maintain original line breaks. (You should maintain double-spacing throughout your essay.)

For example, when citing more than four lines of prose, use the following examples:

Nelly Dean treats Heathcliff poorly and dehumanizes him throughout her narration:

They entirely refused to have it in bed with them, or even in their room, and I had no more sense, so, I put it on the landing of the stairs, hoping it would be gone on the morrow. By chance, or else attracted by hearing his voice, it crept to Mr. Earnshaw's door, and there he found it on quitting his chamber. Inquiries were made as to how it got there; I was obliged to confess, and in recompense for my cowardice and inhumanity was sent out of the house. (Bronte 78)

When citing long sections (more than three lines) of poetry, keep formatting as close to the original as possible.

In his poem "My Papa's Waltz," Theodore Roethke explores his childhood with his father:

The whiskey on your breath
Could make a small boy dizzy;
But I hung on like death:
Such waltzing was not easy.
We Romped until the pans
Slid from the kitchen shelf;
My mother's countenance
Could not unfrown itself. (qtd. in Shrodes, Finestone, Shugrue 202)

When citing two or more paragraphs, use block quotation format, even if the passage from the paragraphs is less than four lines. Indent the first line of each quoted paragraph an extra quarter inch.

In "American Origins of the Writing-across-the-Curriculum Movement," David Russell argues,

   Writing has been an issue in American secondary and higher education since papers and examinations came into wide use in the 1870s, eventually driving out formal recitation and oral examination. . . .
   From its birth in the late nineteenth century, progressive education has wrestled with the conflict within industrial society between pressure to increase specialization of knowledge and of professional work (upholding disciplinary standards) and pressure to integrate more fully an ever-widerning number of citizens into intellectually meaningful activity within mass society (promoting social equity). . . . (3)

Adding or omitting words in quotations

If you add a word or words in a quotation, you should put brackets around the words to indicate that they are not part of the original text.

Jan Harold Brunvand, in an essay on urban legends, states, "some individuals [who retell urban legends] make a point of learning every rumor or tale" (78).

If you omit a word or words from a quotation, you should indicate the deleted word or words by using ellipsis marks, which are three periods ( . . . ) preceded and followed by a space. For example:

In an essay on urban legends, Jan Harold Brunvand notes that "some individuals make a point of learning every recent rumor or tale . . . and in a short time a lively exchange of details occurs" (78).

Please note that brackets are not needed around ellipses unless adding brackets would clarify your use of ellipses.

When omitting words from poetry quotations, use a standard three-period ellipses; however, when omitting one or more full lines of poetry, space several periods to about the length of a complete line in the poem:

                      These beauteous forms,
Through a long absence, have not been to me
As is a landscape to a blind man's eye:

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart;
And passing even into my purer mind,
With tranquil restoration . . . (22-24, 28-30)

Why Use Sources at All?

When writing a text that includes sources, you need to quote the sources you are working with.  Writers use quotes for several reasons: to assert facts; as a voice that adds authority or color to an assertion being made; and most importantly, to avoid plagiarism.

Below are three different quotation formats and guidelines to follow when using them.  The three quotation formats include direct quotation, block quotation, and summary/paraphrase.

Direct Quotations

What is a direct quote?  A direct quote is an exact, word for word copy of the original source.  For example, “In a paper analyzing primary sources such as literary works, you will use direct quotation extensively to illustrate and support your analysis” (Aaron 257).  This quote comes from the source exactly as the author had written it.  A direct quotation usually corresponds exactly to the source's spelling, capitalization and interior punctuation.

Direct quotes must use a lead-in or tag phrase.  In other words, direct quotes must be attached to your own writing.  If you look at the above direct quote, you will notice the phrase “For example,” which is enough to satisfy the lead-in requirement.  When attributing a quote to an author in your text, the following verbs will prove helpful: notes, argues, observes, writes, emphasizes, says, reports, suggests, claims, and comments.  Generally speaking, you should cite the author by last name only—as Brand, not Michael Brand or Mr. Brand.

Using brackets and ellipses in direct quotations--Sometimes you may have to alter the direct quotation in order clarify any unclear pronoun usage (such as “he” or “she”—who are “they”?), to match the grammar of your lead-in sentence, or to eliminate unnecessary information.  To change the grammar, wording, and to eliminate superfluous information, use what is called ellipses (three periods, …) to indicate missing material, and brackets [] to indicate changed or added material.  It is academically dishonest to alter the meaning of a sentence to match your argument using these methods.  Use brackets and ellipses to alter form without misrepresenting the original quotation’s content.  When using direct quotations, consider the following example.

     Shapiro implies blame when he says, “the issue is a complex one, and [Mapplethorpe] is the best example of…the abuse of civil liberties” (199).

In the previous example, the bracketed information replaces the otherwise unclear pronoun “he” in the original quote and irrelevant material is replaced by the ellipses.  Note that the omission of information still provides a sentence that is grammatically correct.

Block Quotations

What is a block quote?  A block quote is similar to a direct quote except that it is four or more lines in length.  When a quote becomes four or more lines in length in your essay, the quote should be set off from your text  (see the example below).  MLA conventions state that the block quote should be double-spaced and indented ten spaces from the margin.  Also, the period that is usually placed after the parentheses is omitted.  It is important to understand that block quotes should not be used to pad papers for length.  Again, misusing block quotes will detract from your credibility as a writer.  Note that block quotes do not use quotation marks to set them off from your text since the indentation signifies to your reader that the quoted material is not your own.  When using block quotations, use the following example as a model.

     The trickster figure, while crucial to Native American mythos, also surfaces in African-American mythology.  In explaining folkloric representations of the devil, Hurston emphasizes that

…he is not the terror that he is in European folklore.  He is a powerfultrickster who often successfully competes with God.  There is a strong suspicion that the devil is an extension of the story makers while God is the supposedly impregnable white masters…. (306)

In this statement, Hurston suggests that African-American storytellers identify strongly with the trickster figure.  It is this identification that helped keep the idea of pride and rebellion alive during the hardships of slavery.

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