How to Insert Dialogue Into an MLA Paper

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Inserting dialogue correctly into your paper using Modern Language Association (MLA) style can be confusing. MLA style is a system of formatting and citation requirements students in high school and college courses often use when submitting papers. Dialogue in your paper could be quoted by itself, included within a longer sentence you are quoting or as part of an extended quotation. Quotations of actual dialogue can enliven your prose and show your reader you understand precisely the subject you are covering. Using correct MLA style will meet the needs of your courses and teachers.

1 Using Dialogue By Itself

2 Identify the piece

Identify the piece of dialogue you want to use. For instance, if you are quoting "The Importance of Being Earnest" by Oscar Wilde, when the character Algernon says, "More than half of modern culture depends on what one shouldn't read," you will use those words exactly in your paper.

3 Place the dialogue within your paper

Place the dialogue within your paper. Once you are ready to use your quote, begin with a quotation mark, then type the sentence you are quoting. Without adding a period, place another quotation mark at the end of your quote. (If your quotation ends with a question mark or exclamation point, include these marks at the end of the quote, inside the final quotation mark.)

4 Add your parenthetical reference

Add your parenthetical reference and final punctuation. Parenthetical references point readers to information within the list of references at the end of the paper. (See Resources.) For instance, the Oscar Wilde dialogue might be included using the following format: "More than half of modern culture depends on what one shouldn't read" (Wilde 12).

5 Dialogue within a Quote

6 Select the text

Select the text you would like to include. Sometimes, you will want to quote a sentence or more from a source that includes quoted dialogue. For instance, you might use a direct quote from a drama critic that includes a piece of dialogue. This is known as a "quote within a quote."

7 Insert your quotation

Insert your quotation, including the dialogue, then modify the quote marks so that the quotes around the dialog become single quotation marks. You begin your quote with double quotations, then use single quotations for the "quote within a quote." In a paper, this might look like: According to Smith, "Wilde's contention that 'More than half of modern culture depends on what one shouldn't read,' shows his disdain for the moral restraints of Victorian England" (Smith 223).

8 Do not include double quotations often

Do not include double quotations often. Instead, consider paraphrasing and including only the quote itself. For example: Smith argues that Wilde's view of Victorian morals is embodied by Algernon's contention that "More than half of modern culture depends on what one shouldn't read" (quoted in Smith 223). Note that when you quote dialogue quoted in another source, you use "quoted in" in the parenthetical reference.

9 Quotation of More Than One Line of Dialogue

10 Use the slash mark

Use the slash mark (/) to separate lines of dialogue when you are quoting three or fewer lines from the same character. This is used mostly with poems and plays written in verse, like Shakespeare's. For example: "The raging rocks/and shivering shock/shall break the locks..." (Shakespeare 9).

11 Include lines from multiple characters

Indent long sections of dialogue or those that include lines from multiple characters. Indent each line an extra half-inch, then type the name of the character speaking in all capital letters. Type the dialog without quotation marks.

12 Include parenthetical documentation

Include parenthetical documentation at the end of the indented section, one line below and 1 inch from the right margin.

  • Avoid dialogue within quotes when you can. It is considered confusing.
  • An MLA style guide is extremely helpful if you often must use MLA style.

Byron Walsh has been a freelance writer and manager of communications since 2001, working with universities, hospitals and government agencies. His work has appeared in internal and trade publications for major West Coast health providers and regional newspapers. Walsh holds master's degrees in creative writing, literature and secondary education.