When preparing a research paper, it’s important to know the rules for citation, especially as they pertain to quotation marks. According to the Modern Language Association (MLA), there are specific rules for when you should, or shouldn’t, be using quotation marks to cite information. To avoid overuse or, worse, misuse, let’s lay out all the basics.
Using Quotation Marks When Citing Information
Quotation Marks and Source Citations
Quotation marks (“ ”) are a form of punctuation that set a certain portion of text apart from the rest of the text. They’re used to indicate things people have said, or reference something from another piece of writing.
Quotation marks are also used when citing particular sources, including:
- Short stories
- Articles in newspapers and other periodicals
- Subsets of books (as in Part I or Chapter 12 of a text)
- Episodes of TV or radio programming
For example, you might quote the acclaimed poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow like this:
- In his poem, “The Village Blacksmith,” Longfellow celebrates the family, the working man, and the value of hard work.
You will also use quotation marks within parenthetical references. So, when creating a works cited reference, you will need to refer to the name of the article, short story, song, or poem, using quotations, within the parenthesis for the citation.
Quotation marks may also be used when citing words that are used as definitions, special-case terms, or words with unusual spellings.
Double Quotation Marks vs. Single Quotation Marks
There are two forms of quotation marks – double (“ ”) and single (‘ ’) - which have different uses.
Double quotation marks are used to set off the spoken word, a quote from a piece of literature, the name of a song, episode, short story, poem, or article.
Meanwhile, single quotation marks are used to set off quotes within quotes. Here’s an example:
- Janice said, “I’m never going back to Bedrock. Even Alannah said, ‘You couldn’t pay me a million dollars to return.’”
In essence, you’re quoting a line in a story, which is an actual quote, spoken by another character in that story.
When Not to Use Quotation Marks
If you’re quoting four or more lines of material in your paper, do not use quotation marks. Such a long quotation can be difficult to follow if kept within the body of your paper.
The only exception to not using quotation marks in this instance is when you’re quoting speech within the long quote. In this case, put only the speech portion of the quote within quotation marks.
Spacing a Quotation Correctly
According to the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, when citing a short quotation from literature or a paper place quotation marks around that line, and use the appropriate punctuation within the quotation marks.
When citing a short quotation from a poem, use quotation marks around the quotation and mark line breaks with a slash ( / ), inserting a space before and after the slash. If you have a stanza break within the quotation, use a double slash ( // ).
As noted above, longer quotations don’t require quotation marks, but should be set as a free-standing block with double spacing all around. Indent the quotation from the left margin by 0.5in.
Punctuation Rules for Quotation Marks
The MLA states that punctuation marks such as periods, commas, and semicolons should go after the parenthetical citation. Question marks and exclamation points should appear within the quotation marks if they’re part of the quote, but after the parenthetical citation if they’re part of your writing.
Remembering the Rules
When writing an essay or well-researched report, be sure to keep in mind these rules for using quotation marks when citing information. Try to keep a rule guide handy for easy reference as you write. In the meantime, you can continue Practice Using Quotation Marks until you feel confident you’ve mastered these important forms of punctuation.