If you're studying the humanities or are in a liberal arts program, chances are you'll need to learn MLA formatting. When you write an argumentative essay that uses quotes as evidence, MLA format is as much a matter of including the quote fluidly as it as a matter of punctuation and indentation. This guide will provide you with MLA rules and show examples of how to apply those rules to make your essay as convincing and readable as possible.
Introduce the quote according to what purpose it serves in the original text and in your essay. This process can involve letting the quote flow naturally with the rest of your text, as with
Though a reproduction may be meticulously accurate, "the meaning of the original work no longer lies in what it uniquely says but in what it uniquely is" (Berger 21).
or by allowing the quote's originator to state the quote for you. Use the present tense when introducing quotes:
Even if a reproduction is well-executed, as Berger asserts, "the meaning of the original work no longer lies in what it uniquely says but in what it uniquely is" (Berger 21).
How you choose to introduce a quote is entirely up to you, but be sure that your introduction doesn't contribute to the quote being taken out of context. If the quote doesn't fit your argument, either find another source or change your argument.
Punctuate the quote correctly. Use double quotation marks for the quote itself and, where applicable, single quotation marks for quotes within the quote. You may include a question mark or exclamation mark within the quotation marks if they are part of the original text. All other punctuation should be located after the citation.
Poking fun at his fellow writers, Vonnegut observes that "they love to stay up all night, arguing the question, 'What is science fiction?'" (Vonnegut 2).
Though Vonnegut is fond of his colleagues, when he observes that, "they love to stay up all night, arguing the question 'What is science fiction?'" (Vonnegut 2), he clearly finds their banter absurd.
If you're quoting poetry, indicate line breaks with a slash, for example, "Type of the antique Rome! Rich reliquary / Of lofty contemplation left to time" (Poe 948).
Indent passages of prose four lines or longer and passages of poetry three lines or longer. Make your margins one inch narrower on the left and right sides of the passage. Note that the punctuation rules change somewhat for longer passages, as they do not require quotation marks and their citation is placed after the end punctuation. For example, if I were to quote from Edgar Allan Poe's poem "The Bells," I'd indent it one inch on each side and type the text as follows:
Keeping time, time, time, In a sort of Runic rhyme, To the tintinnabulation that so musically wells . . . (Poe 954)
Cite your source at the end of each quote. Within parentheses, type the author's last name and the page number from which you took the quote, as shown in my previous examples. If the quote is taken from consecutive pages, include both page numbers within the citation: (Berger 20-21). If you are quoting from a source other than a book, such as a website, documentary, or interview, you may want to look further into MLA citation convention, as it is very flexible in terms of allowing outside sources and has a strict protocol for each.
Things You Will Need
- Word processing program
- Original text
- Visit a website dealing with MLA style for further formatting tips.
- Sign up for a session at your school's Writing Workshop if you are still having difficulty.
- Always double- and triple-check your quotations to avoid inadvertently plagiarizing content.
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