Academic Writing: Do’s and Don’ts of direct quoting

Quotation marks

As we have already explained in this other post, there are specific guidelines and conventions which clarify when to use direct quotes in your academic paper. In the following, we will specify how direct quotes should be implemented correctly. The following rules refer to MLA (Modern Language Association) writing conventions.

Formatting long direct quotes

If you want to integrate a quote which is longer than four lines, you need to place the quotations in a free standing block of text and leave out the quotation marks. The latter is particularly important as we are used to use quotation marks whenever we are reproducing the exact wording of someone else. Furthermore, you have to indent the entire quote 1.25 cm from the left margin. This helps the reader to understand that it is a distinct part of your essay which refers to another author. But be careful: even if you need to indent the first line of paragraphs in MLA papers, you do not need to that with the first line of the indented block. Also, remember that after the block, the full stop is placed before the parenthetical reference. Even if this may appear weird, it is part of the MLA writing conventions.


In his article, Culbertson assesses social norms critically by stating:

To be aware of the conditions necessary for becoming a subject is an important part of ethical reflection. To recognize not only what is gained but what is lost in any process of subjection is another. Likewise, to track the emergence of norms is an important part of moral philosophy, but in this, we should neither forget that the world shaped by our values could be otherwise nor forget to ask whether it ought to be. (Culbertson 456)

Formatting short direct quotes

If you want to use a direct quote which is shorter than four lines, you do not need to create a separate block. Nevertheless, always remember that you need to indicate the author’s name as well as the page number where you have found your quotation. Professors and instructors expecting a paper in MLA style are strict about this so always include the page number of your reference. The author’s name may either appear in the sentence itself or in brackets following the quotation. The page numbers, however, should always appear in the brackets, not in the text of your sentence. A complete reference of your quote should appear on the Works Cited page.

Examples: (source)

  • Wordsworth stated that Romantic poetry was marked by a „spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings“ (263).
  • Romantic poetry is characterized by the „spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings“ (Wordsworth 263).

Integrating quotes smoothly

Whenever you want to use a direct quote in your text, make sure to use signal phrases to introduce your quotes. On the one hand, signal phrases are important to prepare the reader for the quotation and on the other hand, they can establish a smooth transition from your own words to that of the quoted author. Most commonly, signal phrases can contain the name of the author you are referring to in the direct quote. Also, they may provide justification for using him or her as an expert and facilitate to set the context for the quotation.


In Emerson’s understanding, it is possible to make use of the transparent eyeball in order to engage in interaction with the country. However,  Emerson’s approach of  “seeing” should be differentiated from the empirical “seeing”. According to him, while “the poet sees a tree, the wood-cutter sees a stick of timber” ( 3).

Examples of signal phrases

  • According to Emerson, the transparent eyeball is a means to „…“.
  • However, Hannah Arendt offers a different perspective. She confronts his position by stating that „….“
  • The writers Toni Morrison and Ishmael Reed have different approaches towards neo-slave narratives. While Ishmael Reed describes neo-slave narratives as „…“ Morrison classifies them as „…“.
  • The sociologist Orlando Patterson argues, for example, that „…“.

Differences in quoting between British and American English

British and American English do not only differ in terms of vocabulary, but also in punctuation. In American English, double quotes („) are used for initial quotations and single quotes (‚) for quotes that are within the initial quotation. British style, however, uses the reverse technique. Whereas single quotes (‚) are used for initial quotations, double quotes („) appear for quotations within the initial quotation. Also the placement of commas differs between the two varieties. Sounds complicated? Have a look at the examples:

Example American style: (source)

“Economic systems,” according to Professor White, “are an inevitable byproduct of civilization, and are, as John Doe said, ‘with us whether we want them or not.’”

Example British style: (source)

‘Economic systems’, according to Professor White, ‘are an inevitable byproduct of civilization, and are, as John Doe said, “with us whether we want them or not”’.

If you want to know how to cite your sources accurately, have a look at this post.

Eine Antwort zu “Academic Writing: Do’s and Don’ts of direct quoting”