Rules For Using Quotes In An Essay

How to Quote a Source

Introducing a quotation

One of your jobs as a writer is to guide your reader through your text. Don't simply drop quotations into your paper and leave it to the reader to make connections.

Integrating a quotation into your text usually involves two elements:

  • A signal that a quotation is coming--generally the author's name and/or a reference to the work

  • An assertion that indicates the relationship of the quotation to your text

Often both the signal and the assertion appear in a single introductory statement, as in the example below. Notice how a transitional phrase also serves to connect the quotation smoothly to the introductory statement.

Ross (1993), in her study of poor and working-class mothers in London from 1870-1918 [signal], makes it clear that economic status to a large extent determined the meaning of motherhood [assertion]. Among this population [connection], "To mother was to work for and organize household subsistence" (p. 9).

The signal can also come after the assertion, again with a connecting word or phrase:

Illness was rarely a routine matter in the nineteenth century [assertion]. As [connection] Ross observes [signal], "Maternal thinking about children's health revolved around the possibility of a child's maiming or death" (p. 166).


Formatting Quotations

Short direct prose

Incorporate short direct prose quotations into the text of your paper and enclose them in double quotation marks:

According to Jonathan Clarke, "Professional diplomats often say that trying to think diplomatically about foreign policy is a waste of time." 1

Longer prose quotations

Begin longer quotations (for instance, in the APA system, 40 words or more) on a new line and indent the entire quotation (i.e., put in block form), with no quotation marks at beginning or end, as in the quoted passage from our Successful vs. Unsucessful Paraphrases page.

Rules about the minimum length of block quotations, how many spaces to indent, and whether to single- or double-space extended quotations vary with different documentation systems; check the guidelines for the system you're using.


Quotation of Up to 3 Lines of Poetry

Quotations of up to 3 lines of poetry should be integrated into your sentence. For example:

In Julius Caesar, Antony begins his famous speech with "Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears; / I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him" (III.ii.75-76).

Notice that a slash (/) with a space on either side is used to separate lines.

Quotation of More than 3 Lines of Poetry

More than 3 lines of poetry should be indented. As with any extended (indented) quotation, do not use quotation marks unless you need to indicate a quotation within your quotation.


Punctuating with Quotation Marks

Parenthetical citations

With short quotations, place citations outside of closing quotation marks, followed by sentence punctuation (period, question mark, comma, semi-colon, colon):

Menand (2002) characterizes language as "a social weapon" (p. 115).

With block quotations, check the guidelines for the documentation system you are using.

Commas and periods

Place inside closing quotation marks when no parenthetical citation follows:

Hertzberg (2002) notes that "treating the Constitution as imperfect is not new," but because of Dahl's credentials, his "apostasy merits attention" (p. 85).

Semicolons and colons

Place outside of closing quotation marks (or after a parenthetical citation).

Question marks and exclamation points

Place inside closing quotation marks if the quotation is a question/exclamation:

Menand (2001) acknowledges that H. W. Fowler's Modern English Usage is "a classic of the language," but he asks, "Is it a dead classic?" (p. 114).

[Note that a period still follows the closing parenthesis.]

Place outside of closing quotation marks if the entire sentence containing the quotation is a question or exclamation:

How many students actually read the guide to find out what is meant by "academic misconduct"?

Quotation within a quotation

Use single quotation marks for the embedded quotation:

According to Hertzberg (2002), Dahl gives the U. S. Constitution "bad marks in 'democratic fairness' and 'encouraging consensus'" (p. 90).

[The phrases "democratic fairness" and "encouraging consensus" are already in quotation marks in Dahl's sentence.]


Indicating Changes in Quotations

Quoting Only a Portion of the Whole

Use ellipsis points (. . .) to indicate an omission within a quotation--but not at the beginning or end unless it's not obvious that you're quoting only a portion of the whole.

Adding Clarification, Comment, or Correction

Within quotations, use square brackets [ ] (not parentheses) to add your own clarification, comment, or correction.

Use [sic] (meaning "so" or "thus") to indicate that a mistake is in the source you're quoting and is not your own.



1. "The Conceptual Poverty of U.S. Foreign Policy," Atlantic, September 1993, 55.


The rules set forth in this section are customary in the United States. Great Britain and other countries in the Commonwealth of Nations are governed by quite different conventions. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Rule 4 in this section, a rule that has the advantage of being far simpler than Britain's and the disadvantage of being far less logical.

Rule 1. Use double quotation marks to set off a direct (word-for-word) quotation.

Correct: "I hope you will be here," he said.
Incorrect: He said that he "hoped I would be there."
(The quotation marks are incorrect because hoped I would be there does not state the speaker's exact words.)

Rule 2a. Always capitalize the first word in a complete quotation, even midsentence.

Example: Lamarr said, "The case is far from over, and we will win."

Rule 2b. Do not capitalize quoted material that continues a sentence.

Example: Lamarr said that the case was "far from over" and that "we will win."

Rule 3a. Use commas to introduce or interrupt direct quotations.

He said, "I don't care."
"Why," I asked, "don't you care?"

This rule is optional with one-word quotations.

Example: He said "Stop."

Rule 3b. If the quotation comes before he said, she wrote, they reported, Dana insisted, or a similar attribution, end the quoted material with a comma, even if it is only one word.

"I don't care," he said.
"Stop," he said.

Rule 3c. If a quotation functions as a subject or object in a sentence, it might not need a comma.

Is "I don't care" all you can say to me?
Saying "Stop the car" was a mistake.

Rule 4. Periods and commas ALWAYS go inside quotation marks.

The sign said, "Walk." Then it said, "Don't Walk," then, "Walk," all within thirty seconds.
He yelled, "Hurry up."

Rule 5a. The placement of question marks with quotation marks follows logic. If a question is within the quoted material, a question mark should be placed inside the quotation marks.

She asked, "Will you still be my friend?"

The question Will you still be my friend? is part of the quotation.

Do you agree with the saying, "All's fair in love and war"?
The question Do you agree with the saying? is outside the quotation.

Rule 5b. If a quoted question ends in midsentence, the question mark replaces a comma.

Example: "Will you still be my friend?" she asked.

Rule 6. Quotation marks are used for components, such as chapter titles in a book, individual episodes of a TV series, songs from a Broadway show or a music album, titles of articles or essays in print or online, and shorter works such as short stories and poems.

It is customary in American publishing to put the title of an entire composition in italics. Put the title of a short work—one that is or could be part of a larger undertaking—in quotation marks.

A "composition" is a creative, journalistic, or scholarly enterprise that is whole, complex, a thing unto itself. This includes books, movies, plays, TV shows, newspapers, magazines, websites, music albums, operas, musical theater, paintings, sculptures, and other works of art.

Example: Richard Burton performed the song "Camelot" in the 1960 Broadway musical Camelot.

Although the word is the same, "Camelot" the song takes quotation marks because it's part of a larger work—namely, a full-length show called Camelot.

Rule 7. Use single quotation marks for quotations within quotations.

Example: Dan said: "In a town outside Brisbane, I saw 'Tourists go home' written on a wall. But then someone told me, 'Pay it no mind, lad.' "

Note that the period goes inside both the single and double quotation marks. Also note that, as a courtesy, there is visible space between adjacent single and double quotation marks.

Rule 8a. Quotation marks are often used with technical terms, terms used in an unusual way, or other expressions that vary from standard usage.

It's an oil-extraction method known as "fracking."
He did some "experimenting" in his college days.
I had a visit from my "friend" the tax man.

Rule 8b. Never use single quotation marks in sentences like the previous three.

Incorrect: I had a visit from my 'friend' the tax man.

The single quotation marks in the above sentence are intended to send a message to the reader that friend is being used in a special way: in this case, sarcastically. Avoid this invalid usage. Single quotation marks are valid only within a quotation, as per Rule 7, above.

Rule 9. When quoted material runs more than one paragraph, start each new paragraph with opening quotation marks, but do not use closing quotation marks until the end of the passage.

She wrote: "I don't paint anymore. For a while I thought it was just a phase that I'd get over.
"Now, I don't even try."

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