Essay Mla Format Quotes Within Quotes

For all questions regarding style and documentation refer to your Longwood Style Manual or the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers.

The paper must be double-spaced in its entirety, including quotations, notes, and the list of works cited. In no case do you single-space anything.

According to MLA style, a paper does not present a title page. Begin one inch from the top of the first page and flush with the left margin and include your name, the instructor's name, the course number, and the date on separate lines. Double-space and center your title. Double-space and begin your text.

Set only left justification. Be sure that the right margin is not justified.

"While quotations are common and often effective in research papers, use them selectively. Quote only words, phrases, lines, and passages that are particularly interesting, vivid, unusual, or apt, and keep all quotations as brief as possible. Overquotation can bore your readers and might lead them to conclude that you are neither an orignal thinker nor a skillful writer" (MLA 56).

1. Quoting a passage which is shorter than four lines and is to be incorporated as part of your sentence:

Hawthorne emphasizes the prying character of Roger Chilling worth early in the novel: "The eyes of the wrinkled scholar glowed so intensely upon her, that Hester Prynne clasped her hands over her heart, dreading lest he should read the secret there at once" (Hawthorne 76).

Note the positions of the quotation marks, citation, and period at the end of the sentence. If the quotation ends with an exclamation point or question mark, that punctuation is included INSIDE the quotation mark. The period after the parenthetical reference is also retained.

2. Quoting a passage which spans two pages of the original text:

"read the secret there at once" (Hawthorne 76-77).

3. Quoting a passage which is four lines or longer in your text (this passage should be indented ten spaces from the left margin):

It was so artistically done, and with so much fertility and gorgeous luxuriance of fancy, that it had all the effect of a last and fitting decoration to the apparel which she wore; and which was of a splendor in accordance with the taste of the age, but greatly beyond what was allowed by the sumptuary regulations of the colony. (Hawthorne 54)

In practice, the offset quotation should be double-spaced and you should double-space before and after the inserted quotation too. Note that there are no punctuation marks after the closing parenthesis and there are no quotations marks around the text itself.

4. Quoting a portion of dialogue:

If you quote something a character says, use double quotation marks on the outside ends of the quotation to indicate that you are quoting a portion of the text. Use single quotation marks inside the double quotation marks to indicate that someone is speaking.

"'Thou art not my child! Thou art no Pearl of mine!'" (Hawthorne 97).

If you cite a passage of dialogue of four lines or more, follow the rule for offset quotation, but remember to use double quotation marks at the beginning and end of the spoken portion to indicate that a character is speaking.

5. When you quote a passage, you may occasionally want to alter the original text by either deleting some or by supplying your own material to make the sentence grammatically sound or to provide some explanation.

A. original: The village lay under two feet of snow, with drifts at the windy corners.

In a sky of iron the points of the Dipper hung like icicles and Orion flashed his cold fires.

B. added: Edith Wharton describes the village of Starkfield as "lay[ing] under two feet

of snow, with drifts at the windy corners. In a sky of iron the points of the Dipper hung

like icicles and Orion flashed his cold fires."

C. deleted: Wharton's depiction of the hardness of environment is especially apparent

in her description of the "sky of iron [in which]. . .Orion flashes his cold fires."

D. If you quote from one sentence, skip over some text, and then quote from a later one,

you need four ellipsis points to indicate that you've quoted material from two separate sentences:

"The village lay under two feet of snow. . . .[and] the Dipper hung like icicles. . . ."

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.


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).


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.


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.


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).


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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