Formatting Direct Quotations Properly in MLA Format

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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.

Examples:

  • 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.

Example:

  • 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.

Examples:

Fitness and health guru Jillian Michaels stresses the importance of believing in yourself.

Be brave and be patient. Have establishment in yourself; trust in the significance of your life and the purpose of your passion. You are strong enough to sit in the space between spaces and grant divine inspiration to shed some light. When you place positive energy and productive effort into the world it will come back to you. Occasionally in ways you might not immediately comprehend and on a time frame you didn’t expect. Look. Listen. Learn. Stay open. Your destiny is awaiting you. (285)

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.