Typesetting Rules For Quotes In Essays

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)

Quotes are used to emphasize excerpts of text. Since users almost never read but scan we need to provide them with some focus anchors to fix their attention to the most important parts of our articles. Furthermore, quotes are always used for testimonials and sometimes for blog comments. They can be styled using graphics, CSS and a little bit of JavaScript. Sometimes, dynamic creative solutions can be applied as well.

This post presents creative examples and best practices for design of pull quotes. We’ve tried to identify some common solutions and interesting approaches you may want to use or develop further in your projects.

No. First of all: quote ≠ block quote ≠ pull quote. Pull quotes are short excerpts from the presented text. They are used to pull a text passage out of the reader’s flow and give it a more dominant position in the post or the article.

Just like a pull quote blockquote (actually block quotations) are also set off from the main text as a distinct paragraph or block. However, they refer to some external citation which isn’t already mentioned in the article. Block quotations are usually placed within the reader’s flow.

Finally, “normal” quotes cite the content found in some other sources and are included to support the content rather than dominate over it.

Blockquote vs. Q vs. Cite

According to HTML specifications, there are three elements which are supposed to semantically mark up quotations, namely , and . Although all intended to markup quotes, they should be used in different contexts. So when should you use what? HTML Dog provides a nice and compact overview of these elements:

blockquote is a large quotation. The content of a blockquote element must include block-level elements such as headings, lists, paragraphs or div’s. This element can also have an optional attribute that specifies the location (in the form of a URI) where the quote has come from. Example:


q is a small quotation. The content of this element is an in-line quote. Modern browsers know how to interpret which is why you can style quotations using this HTML-elements via CSS. Example:

Although is almost never used, it has some useful properties. For instance, you can specify the appearance of quotes within the -element via CSS. That’s reasonable as different languages use different quotation marks for the same purpose. For instance, these ones:

Modern browsers support this way of styling. Of course, Internet Explorer (even in its 8th version) doesn’t support it although it knows pretty well. In particular, since some problems with encoding of quotes can appear sometimes it’s useful to provide numeric values (see below).

According to standards you can even specify the appearance of quotation marks depending on the browser’s language of the user. This is how a W3C-example looks like:

As lovely as they may be, pull quotes have inherent problems in the way they are placed in the middle of HTML content. To a visual, CSSenabled browser all might seem hunky-dory, but to those browsers that are not CSS-abled and fall back on the plain HTML or to screen readers for visually impaired users, the pull quotes will appear slap bang in the middle of the main content. A quote suddenly appearing between two paragraphs is clearly out of place and will confusingly break the flow.

If you are using pull-quotes, it is wise to provide a little extra information for users who would stumble on this problem. In the XHTMLyou can provide a message, hidden from view with CSS that reads something like “Start of pull-quote” before the quote and then “endquote” after it.You could even have a link similar to the “skip navigation” link, which would offer the user the ability to skip the pull-quote and continue to the main content.


cite defines an in-line citation or reference to another source. Example:

Summing up: for large quotes use blockquote, for small quotes use q and for references to another sources cite should be used. In practice, usually only blockquote and q are used.

Gallery of Pull Quotes and Citations

Quotes, braces, lines, dialogue boxes, balloons — there are some paths a designer can take to create a beautiful and memorable quote. Design solutions vary in colors, forms, and sizes. Different techniques produce different result: However, it is important that it is clear to the visitors that the quote is a quote. Otherwise, it becomes easy to keep track on the content.

Keep in mind: pull quotes shouldn’t be used too often, they shouldn’t be too large, and they shouldn’t be included for the wrong purposes. In most cases an ordinary article should have at most 1-2 pull quotes. Otherwise, they lose their appeal, and the article becomes harder to scan.

Take a look at the example above. 99designs uses a block quotation to emphasize what the site is about. However, the text put in the quotes actually isn’t a quotation. We do not know why quotation mark is used in this case. We do know, though, that they shouldn’t be used in this context.

1. Simple indentation

In most cases simple indentation is enough. In this case, the structure of the content makes clear that the intended content is taken out from the main content flow. However, using this approach you need to make sure you have a very intuitive typographic and visual hierarchy and the indentation won’t be misunderstood. Often italics are used to indicate that the content is a quote, and sometimes quotation is centered. The latter technique, however, is used quite rarely.

Is your pattern library up to date today? Alla Kholmatova has just finished a fully fledged book on Design Systems and how to get them right. With common traps, gotchas and the lessons she learned. Hardcover, eBook. Just sayin'.

2. Quotes and indentation

Another standard approach for design of pull quotes is to use the quote itself as a visual element to clearly indicate what the text passage is supposed to stand for. This technique is by far the most popular one and there is a good reason behind it: it unambiguously communicates the meaning of the text block. Surprisingly, the quote visuals are almost always placed on the left of the quote. You may try to experiment with quote on the right, or at the bottom of the passage.

3. Lines and indentation

Standard, most usual and recommended way of designing blockquotes.

4. Quotations highlighted with a color

Frequently designers use indentation together with a variation of color which is applied to the quote. Usually if the layout is dark quotes are presented in colors which are darker than the main content. And if the layout is light the quote is presented in lighter colors. If quotes need to be strongly emphasized vibrant colors are used. For modest highlighting usually slight variations of main colors suffices to indicate the difference between the main content and cited text.

5. Pull Quotes

Actually we know it from print where quotes-neighbours are supposed to emphasize some important message or interview excerpts. Pull quotes are placed not within, but next to the content. Such quotes are usually short and don’t provide any additional information as they can also be found in the article. In Web the technique is seen rather rarely, but it has a charm of its own and — if used properly and for the right purposes — may strongly support the content. To clearly separate the “neighbours” from the main content designers often use lines or a large amount of whitespace.

It is important to understand that in such cases pull quotes break the usual content flow which may make it harder for the readers to actually follow the argumentation of the article. In some cases it is more effective to avoid quotes (e.g. if a complex matter is described) while in other cases quotes can quicken and simplify the understanding (e.g. the main statement in the interview).

Quotes-neighbours are usually placed on the right side of the content in order to not break the reader’s flow and remain passive.

6. Creative solutions

Sometimes designers come up with creative solutions one actually wouldn’t expect from such an element as a quote. Here are some of them. Hopefully, they’ll help you to come up with further interesting ideas for the design of pull quotes.

7. Quotations as a standalone element

Often quotations are used and designed not inside an article, but as a standalone design element which is given the dominant position in the design. This is often the case in testimonials where companies present quotes from their customers and clients to confirm the quality they actually promise. In such cases quotations are usually big, bold and clearly visible.

In testimonials quotes are sometimes “rotated” meaning that among 5-7 testimonials only one is displayed at once.

In books and scientific documents citations are often provided with a footnote reference to the original document. In the Web, where references are commonly just linked to, this technique has never managed to become popular, however footnotes aren’t difficult to achieve with pure CSS.

For instance, if you’d like to cite an excerpt from a book, instead of providing the corresponding title and page number you can simply refer to a footnote below the article. Thus, you can avoid overloading your article with too many references. Footnotes, hence, can make it easier for your readers to read your article and provide details “on-demand” — only when they are needed.

Sometimes footnotes are also used by authors to provide some remarks to the article (similar to books). However, it is not always reasonable to use footnotes for links. The Web is a dynamic medium and links are extremely powerful - you don’t have to send your visitors to the footer of the page first to be able to follow a given link.

Take a look at the following example. Naz Hamid uses both a blockquote (label 2 in the image above) and a footnote in his articles. The reference to the footnote and the footnote itself are interconnected: visitors can click on the reference and jump to the footnote. And in the footnote the “return”-icon allows the user to jump from the footnote to the place in the article where it is referred to. The author uses the footnotes to provide a personal remark on what has been mentioned in the article (labels 1 and 2).

With footnotes you can offer your visitors some traditional, classic layout feeling without overwhelming them with long references to citations you provide.


Further references

  • Elements of Design: Pull Quotes Christian Watson showcases 20 examples of attractive, unusual and beautiful pull quotes.
  • WordPress Plugin: JavaScript Pull-Quotes A plugin that allows you to easily insert pull-quotes into your posts and pages.It uses client-side JavaScript.
  • Grid-Based Design: Six Creative Column Techniques at Smashing Magazine Look at the “Escaping Boundaries” section (fourth from the top). Pull-quotes are an example of a design element that presents an opportunity to break out of your established visual flow.The older version of Andy Rutledge’s Design View used interesting pull-quotes that broke the visual flow of the column.Doing this places greater emphasis on the pull-quotes than if they were kept within the content of the column.
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