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What Do You Do With Block Quotes In An Essay

Block quotes look fancy. With their shading, italicizing and indenting, they give a quote attention and improve an article’s visual appeal—I’m not going to pretend otherwise.

But there’s a right way and a wrong way to look fancy. And when it comes to block quotes, there are certain, objective steps we have to take to implement them properly, guidelines to ensure that our usage across the site is as consistent and sensible as possible. They’re pretty easy to learn, so let’s run through the dos and don’ts one by one.

You might want to start by quickly reviewing the guidelines on block quotes in the B/R Stylebook. But that’s not a great place to get into a longer discussion with several scenarios. Hence this blog post. I’ll try to cover as much as I can, and I’ll encourage you to ask any questions you have in the comments.

* * *

1. DON’T use a block quote for a quote you obtained firsthand. You could make an exception if you obtained it in writing or you really want to set off a long, uninterrupted discussion, but the general rule is that block quotes imply that what’s contained within is an excerpt from another source.

2. DO use a block quote for an excerpted quotation of (a) three full lines or more in the editing interface of the publishing platform before implementing the “BQ” formatting or (b) five sentences total—surpassing either minimum is fine. Note that the site’s recent redesign has greatly changed how much text can fit on a line on the live article page when compared to editing mode, but this “three full lines” guideline was written with the editing interface in mind. Plus, it’s easier to stick with a guideline based on how the article looks while you’re writing or editing than how it will look when published! Anything shorter is really not a meaty enough quote to give it that “fancy” treatment.

(Note: The site may fully align the editing interface’s text and column sizes with the live article page at some point in the near future. When in doubt, stick with the “five full sentences” rule.)

3. DON’T use a block quote for any quoted segment that is both less than three full lines of text in the editing interface and fewer than five sentences. This is pretty much what I just said in No. 2, but it’s nice to alternate between dos and don’ts for effect.

4. DO include clear attribution and sourcing, with a hyperlink mandatory (unless you got the quote from a TV/radio broadcast or printed press release), in the lead-in to your block quote. That means you make it clear who is responsible for the ensuing quoted text, where you got it and how the reader can find it in its full context. For a regular quote, you can accomplish all this after the first complete thought of the quote, like this (let’s assume Jason Kidd has already been mentioned):

“We had a lot of long coaches meetings,” Kidd told NBA.com’s John Schuhmann. “We had a lot of long conversations with players. But there was never a panic of, like, ‘Maybe I should have kept playing, maybe we should have went on vacation a little bit longer.’”

Let’s say we were to take an extended version of that quote from that NBA.com story and make it a block quote due to its length. We’d have to introduce all the elements in our lead-in transition and make the block quote a pure quote from Kidd.

Kidd recently talked about the Nets’ early struggles with NBA.com’s John Schuhmann:

We had a lot of long coaches meetings. We had a lot of long conversations with players. But there was never a panic of, like, ‘Maybe I should have kept playing, maybe we should have went on vacation a little bit longer.’ Sometimes you have to face adversity right off the bat and you get to find out who’s really in and who’s out. And those guys in the locker room are truly in and that’s what makes it special.

After the block quote, the story would continue here.

5. DON’T use quotation marks to open and close a block quote. The block quote format takes the place of that open and close quote. In the example above, quotation marks aren’t necessary to understand it’s Kidd speaking. The indentation and shading (in Bleacher Report, though there’s no shading on this blog) make any further distinction unnecessary. This one is an interesting case, though, because it has Kidd quoting his own thoughts. Because this was originally done with single quotes in the source material (it’s a journalism convention to do so for a quote within a quote) and might be confusing with double quotes, it should remain as single quotes.

6. DO leave quotation marks around a quote within a larger block quote featuring other text—i.e. *if* there is also text produced by the writer of the source article being excerpted. In that NBA.com article, which is a good read, Schuhmann actually accomplishes this himself with a block quote from a Bleacher Report article by Howard Beck, so we’ll use his piece as a great example. So it’s clear what’s from Schuhmann’s article, I’ll set it off with text breaks:

* * *

Early in November, ESPN.com’s David Thorpe called Kidd “the worst coach in the NBA.” Later that month, Bleacher Report’s Howard Beck quoted a scout who didn’t think much of Kidd, the coach.

A veteran scout, interviewed earlier in the day and speaking on the condition of anonymity, called Kidd’s bench comportment “terrible,” observing that the play-calling has fallen mostly to his top assistants, Lawrence Frank and John Welch.

“He doesn’t do anything,” said the scout, who has watched the Nets several times. “He doesn’t make calls. John Welch does all the offense. Lawrence does all the defense. … I don’t know what Kidd does. I don’t think you can grade him and say he’s bad. You can give him an incomplete.”

Things have changed quite a bit. The Nets are 27-12 (best in the Eastern Conference) sine the new year began, with a top-10 defense, despite a two-game slide this week.

* * *

(Note: I changed the hyperlinking in his example a bit to better mirror B/R guidelines, which advise quoting on “clearly attributive words” or “a relevant verb or verb with a small number of related words.” Since that’s tangentially related, it seemed like a good idea to clear that up here.)

As you can see, it makes sense to surround the quote within the larger excerpt in regular quotation marks so it mirrors the source article. The quotation marks are necessary for proper reading, and the attribution should be left intact here because it’s part of a full excerpt.

* * *

That should cover most of the scenarios with quoting when you might be debating whether to use a block quote or how to format the text properly. Again, we don’t want to use block quotes with firsthand quotes because it could look like we copied the quotes from elsewhere. In general, block quotes are reserved for excerpted text, but a writer may choose to block-quote a long firsthand quote, especially if it was obtained in writing (e.g. via email).

There are many quoting situations that can crop up in journalistic writing, so please don’t hesitate to ask about anything else in the world of block quotes in the comments below.

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Tim Coughlin manages Bleacher Report’s copy editing team and helps to oversee the B/R Stylebook. Other style questions and suggestions may be directed to the Stylebook Question Form at the bottom of the B/R Stylebook page.  

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)

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