Proper Quotation Format Essay

Quotations

Different style sheets (MLA, Chicago, etc.) have different conventions for quoting in literary essays. Normally I am tolerant of variations, but many students do not seem aware of some features shared by all for quoting poetry. Please follow the guidelines below (and your other professors will appreciate it if you do this in other classes).

Cite page numbers for prose and line numbers for poetry. If you are quoting a poem translated into prose, cite line numbers if possible; otherwise cite page numbers. If you aren't sure about the difference between poetry and prose, click here.

If you are citing The Canterbury Tales from The Riverside Chaucer, you may replace the name of the tale with the fragment number. Hence you may cite line 1 of the Knight's Tale as "(Knight's Tale, 1)" or as "(I.859)" (that is, line 859 of Fragment I).

When citing poetry indicate the line breaks you find in the edition you are quoting from. Do not cite the text as continuous prose.

Short Quotations

If you are quoting under four lines of poetry, indicate the line breaks with "/". Here is an example from an essay on Chaucer:

[Chaucer's] images are simple and direct. They are for the most part introduced with nothing more than a "like to", or "as", and cover all phases of human activity, and make their effect by their homely and immediate appeal. The bells on the Monk's bridle ring "in a whistlynge wynd als cleere, / And eek as loude as dooth the chapel belle" (General Prologue, 170-171).

Remember to separate the "/" from any other text or punctuation with spaces on either side.

If your quotation is longer than four lines, you must indicate line breaks as they are printed in the text from which you are quoting--without slashes. The quotation must be indented and formatted as described below.

Longer Quotations

If your quotation consists of four or more lines or prose or poetry, follow the guidelines below:

  • Separate the quotation from the main text of your essay by indenting it. You may single space the quotation, but do not centre the text and do not change the font.
  • The indentation indicates that the text is a quotation; you do not need quotations marks. However, if the quotation contains but does not consist entirely of dialogue, use quotation marks for the dialogue portions of the quotation.
  • You must indicate the line breaks in poetry as they are printed in the text from which you are quoting. Do not use slashes.

Here are two examples:

The arming scene calls our attention to the difficulties of judging Gawain's actions. Hollis nicely states the problem:

The poem itself prompts us to ask questions about the process involved in Gawain's action. The arming scene, in its interpretation of the pentangle symbol, presents us with an apparently perfect hero, one whose virtues are so preeminent and so tightly integrated that it appears impossible for evil to find entry (619-65, esp. 656-61). How, then, does it happen that, much as Gawain and the Green Knight differ in their judgement, Gawain acts in such a way that both agree he has fallen short of perfection? (1)

It is thus important to consider in what ways Gawain considers himself to have failed. Gawain makes four attempts to explain his failing, each quite distinct in kind. His initial reaction to the Green Knight's revelation is to regard his action in terms of specific vices causing the destruction of virtue:

"Corsed worth cowarddyse and couetyse bothe!
In yow is vylany and vyse that vertue disstryez."
Thenne he ka3t to the knot, and the kest lawsez,
Brayde brothely the belt to the burne seluen"
"Lo! ther the falssyng, foule mot his falle!" (2374-84)

Gawain's account of his behaviour here is reminiscent of the action of a morality play.

Here is an example without any dialogue:

First we may take his work in rhyme royal and look at a passage in which a sense of considerable emotion has to be conveyed:

The lyf so short, the craft so long to lerne,
Th'assay so hard, so sharp the conquerynge,
The dredful joye, alwey that slit so yerne:
Al this mene I by Love, that my felynge
Astonyeth with his wonderful werkynge
So sore iwis, that whan I on hym thynke,
Nat wot I wel where that I flete or synke. (The Parliament of Fowls, ll. 1-7)

Now while it is true, as Professor Manly points out that his passage in an example of the rhetorical method of beginning a poem with a sententia, it is even more important to observe how Chaucer has given the bare idea a life and emotion of his own.

Commas before Quotations

Comma placement before a quotation also causes people trouble. Notice that in 'The bells on the Monk's bridle ring "in a whistlynge wynd als cleere…"' there is no comma after "ring" and before the beginning of the quote? This is because the quotation works grammatically in the sentence. In this case, the first letter of the quotation should be lower case (unless the first word is a proper noun). With shorter quotations you should attempt to do this wherever possible on stylistic grounds. Here are some examples of quotations integrated into the grammar of the sentence.

The next step is his alliance with covetousness -- he identifies himself with a vice, forsaking his true nature to become "fawty and falce" (2382).

Gawain has very good reasons besides modesty to decline the Lady's offer to "take the toruayle to myself to trwluf expoun" (1540).

The Lady of the Castle appeals to Gawain's "manhod" when she reminds him that he is "stif innoghe to constrayne wyth strenkthe" (1497).

Putter argues that "the poet's commitment to ideals of courtoisie, the high standards of refinement and delicacy imperative at court, inevitably entails emphasis on coarseness and locus to which it is intrinsic" (47-48).

Both versions introduce Tom Bombadil without further explanation as "a merry fellow" (646). Both also give Tom four adventures, or encounters with malignant powers.

Eomer says that "wanderers in the Riddermark would be wise to be less haughty in these days of doubt" (645-55).

Shippey argues that "Tolkien knew (none better) that dwarf-names he had used in The Hobbit came from Old Norse" (55).

If you are quoting dialogue, or a statement made by an author, and you are drawing attention to it as a statement, a comma normally precedes the quote. This almost always comes after a verb like "says", "asks", "responds", "states", "screams", etc. In these instances, the quotation begins with a capital letter. Consider the following examples:

At the end of the first part of the Knight's Tale, Chaucer asks, "Who hath the worse, Arcite or Palamoun?" (Knight's Tale, 1348).

The narrator's own summing up is, indeed, a slightly tempered view of the absolute perfection put forward in 632-35. Hearing the Green Knight's challenge, Arthur responds, "Sir cortays knyght, / If thou crave batayl bare, / Here faylez thou not to fyght" (276-78).

He says, "This pure fyue / Were harder happed on that hathel then on any other" (645-55).

According to Putter, "The great Ricardian poets bequeathed to modern criticism a suspicion about the literary seriousness of Arthurian romance" (1).

Both versions introduce Tom Bombadil without further explanation: "Old Tom Bombadil was a merry fellow; / bright blue his jacket was, and his boots were yellow" (646). Both also give Tom four adventures, or encounters with malignant powers.

Eomer says, "Wanderers in the Riddermark would be wise to be less haughty in these days of doubt" (645-55).

According to Shippey, "Tolkien knew (none better) that dwarf-names he had used in The Hobbit came from Old Norse" (55).

Integrating Quotations

When you include a quotation to illustrate a point you have made, the quotation should be followed by an explanation of how the material in the quotation illustrates your point.

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Last Update: 20 March, 2003

 

Using literary quotations

Use the guidelines below to learn how to use literary quotations.


 

For further information, check out Quoting, Paraphrasing, and Acknowledging Sources, or you may wish to see when the Writing Center is next offering its workshop entitled Intro to Literary Analysis.

Incorporating Quotations

  • As you choose quotations for a literary analysis, remember the purpose of quoting.

  • Your paper develops an argument about what the author of the text is doing--how the text "works."

  • You use quotations to support this argument; that is, you select, present, and discuss material from the text specifically to "prove" your point--to make your case--in much the same way a lawyer brings evidence before a jury.

  • Quoting for any other purpose is counterproductive.

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Punctuating and Indenting Quotations

For the most part, you must reproduce the spelling, capitalization, and internal punctuation of the original exactly.

The following alterations are acceptable:

Changing the closing punctuation

You may alter the closing punctuation of a quotation in order to incorporate it into a sentence of your own:

"Books are not life," Lawrence emphasized.

Commas and periods go inside the closing quotation marks; the other punctuation marks go outside.

Lawrence insisted that books "are not life"; however, he wrote exultantly about the power of the novel.

Why does Lawrence need to point out that "Books are not life"?

Using the slash when quoting poetry

When quoting lines of poetry up to three lines long (which are not indented, see Indenting quotations), separate one line of poetry from another with a slash mark (see examples in Incorporating Quotations into Sentences).

Using Ellipsis Points for Omitted Material

If for the sake of brevity you wish to omit material from a quoted passage, use ellipsis points (three spaced periods) to indicate the omission.

(See this sample paragraph. The writer quoted only those portions of the original sentences that related to the point of the analysis.)

Using Square Brackets when Altering Material

When quoting, you may alter grammatical forms such as the tense of a verb or the person of a pronoun so that the quotation conforms grammatically to your own prose; indicate these alterations by placing square brackets around the changed form.

In the following quotation "her" replaces the "your" of the original so that the quote fits the point of view of the paper (third person):

When he hears Cordelia's answer, Lear seems surprised, but not dumbfounded. He advises her to "mend [her] speech a little." He had expected her to praise him the most; but compared to her sisters', her remarks seem almost insulting (1.1.95).

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Indenting Quotations

Prose or verse quotations less than four lines long are not indented. For quotations of this length, use the patterns described above.

Indent "longer" quotations in a block about ten spaces in from the left margin; when a quotation is indented, quotation marks are not used.

The MLA Handbook (1995) recommends that indented quotations be double-spaced, but many instructors prefer them single-spaced. The meaning of "longer" varies slightly from one style system to another, but a general rule is to indent quotations that are more than two (or three) lines of verse or three (or four) lines of prose.

Indent dialogue between characters in a play. Place the speaker's name before the speech quoted:

CAESAR: Et tu, Brute! Then, fall, Caesar!

CINNA: Liberty! Freedom! Tyranny is dead! (3.1.77-78)

For more information see Quoting, Paraphrasing, and Acknowledging Sources - How to Quote a Source.

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Emphasizing Your Ideas

What to include in literary analysis

Take a look at this sample paragraph. It includes 3 basic kinds of materials:

  1. statements expressing the student's own ideas about the relationship Woolf is creating;

  2. data or evidence from the text in summarized, paraphrased, and quoted form; and

  3. discussion of how the data support the writer's interpretation.

The quotations are used in accordance with the writer's purpose, i.e. to show how the development of Mrs. Ramsey's feelings indicates something about her personality.

Should I quote?

Quoting is only one of several ways to present textual material as evidence.

You can also refer to textual data, summarize, and paraphrase. You will often want merely to refer or point to passages (as in the third sentence in the sample paragraph) that contribute to your argument.

In other cases you will want to paraphrase, i.e. "translate" the original into your own words, again instead of quoting. Summarize or paraphrase when it is not so much the language of the text that justifies your position, but the substance or content.

Quote selectively

Similarly, after you have decided that you do want to use material in quoted form, quote only the portions of the text specifically relevant to your point.

Think of the text in terms of units--words, phrases, sentences, and groups of sentences (paragraphs, stanzas)--and use only the units you need.

If it is particular words or phrases that "prove" your point, you do not need to quote the sentences they appear in; rather, incorporate the words and phrases into sentences expressing your own ideas.

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Maintaining Clarity and Readability

Introduce your quotations

Introduce a quotation either by indicating what it is intended to show or by naming its source, or both.

For non-narrative poetry, it's customary to attribute quotations to "the speaker"; for a story with a narrator, to "the narrator."

For plays, novels, and other works with characters, identify characters as you quote them.

Do not use two quotations in a row, without intervening material of your own.

For further information see Quoting, Paraphrasing, and Acknowledging Sources - How to Quote a Source.

Pay attention to verb tense

Tense is a tricky issue. It's customary in literary analysis to use the present tense; it is at the present time that you (and your reader) are looking at the text.

But events in a narrative or drama take place in a time sequence. You will often need to use a past tense to refer to events that took place before the moment you are presently discussing:

When he hears Cordelia's answer, Lear seems surprised, but not dumbfounded. He advises her to "mend [her] speech a little." He had expected her to praise him the most; but compared to her sisters', her remarks seem almost insulting (1.1.95).

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Documenting Quotations

Follow your course instructor's guidelines for documenting sources. If your instructor hasn't told you which system to use to document sources, ask.

Keep in mind that when you are writing a paper about the same text and quoting from the same edition that everyone else in the class is, instructors will often allow you to use informal documentation. In this case just include the page number in parentheses after the quotation or reference to the text. To be sure, though, you should ask your course instructor.

The documentation style used in this pages is that presented in the 1995 MLA Handbook, but other style systems are commonly used. The Writing Center has information about the rules of documentation in general and about a number of the most common systems, such as APA, APSA, CBE, Chicago/Turabian, MLA, and Numbered References.

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