How To Use Quotes in Essays and Speeches

Updated October 17, 2022
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If you're considering incorporating a quote into your essay or speech, you're about to make a wise decision. An appropriate quote is a very effective means of opening a speech or strengthening your argument in an essay.

A quote will allow your audience to "see for themselves". They don't have to take your word for it. A writer, researcher or industry leader may have already proven your point or shared the same sentiment.

You also want your audience to connect with the premise of your essay or speech. Sharing a quote will make things more memorable for your intended audience and, hopefully, draw them in or teach them something new.

Let's take a look at the benefits that come with citing a reference, as well as how to efficiently include them in your writing.


Benefits of Adding Quotes to a Speech or Essay

  • Reinforcement - Quotes reinforce your argument because they offer a second voice in support of your claim.
  • Credibility - Including a quote adds credibility to your argument because it illustrates the fact that someone else has also found your topic worthy of discussion and research.
  • Research - The addition of a quote allows others to see you've spent time researching your topic. You've gone out in search of evidence, or authorities who already support the main idea of your essay or speech.
  • Emotion - You want your audience to connect with your topic, whether your goal is to inform, persuade or entertain them. A quote can be used to add authority, inspiration, or even humor.

How To Incorporate Quotes

  • Choose wisely - Provide the reflection of someone who's devoted considerable time to the field. If you ask your audience to heed someone who knows what they're talking about, your quote will carry more weight.
  • Introduce your quote - If your quote isn’t from a well-known figure, introduce the person you're quoting. For example, cite their years in the industry or mention their contribution to the topic at hand. Then, use their quote to illustrateyour point.
  • Go with the crowd - Make sure you know your audience well enough to select a quote that will resonate with them. If you're speaking to millennials, you might not want to choose a quote from Warren Harding (the 29th President of the United States). Instead, go for someone more relevant like Barack Obama.
  • Consider popularity - While you don’t want to be too obscure, you should also try to avoid anything that appears all over the internet. If it's a quote that's been repeated or retweeted a thousand times, it starts to lose its weight, much like a cliché.
  • Less is more - Less is definitely more. You don't want your audience to tune out during your carefully selected quote. If you can keep it to a striking line or two, it'll be more memorable than a lengthy, paragraph-long quote.
  • Consider context - Never take a quote out of context. We tend to do this a lot in everyday conversation, so be careful you don't do this from your platform. It will only diminish the authority of the quote and, ultimately, yourself.
  • Consider placement - Quotes are an ideal way to open a speech, or a new segment within a speech or essay, but you should generally avoid closing your essay or speech with a quote. You want the final words to come from you, whether you're reiterating the main point, closing with a hypothetical question, or just offering a final thought.

Formatting Quotes in an Essay

When writing an essay, the format of your quote will depend upon your teacher's required method of citation. Without knowing if you'll need to reference MLA, APA, Chicago, etc., these general formatting tips will get you started:

  • Short Quotes: A short quote is typically anything less than four typed lines. In that case, simply enclose the quote within quotation marks. At the end of the quotation, cite the author's last name, or the title, and page or line number in parentheses. Pay attention to your punctuation around the quotation marks and parentheses!

    Here's an example, according to APA style:

George Washington argued "if the freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter" (Dunn, 223).

  • Long Quotes: Quotes that are five lines or more require a section of blocked text. This makes the quote stand out and easier to read. It's best to introduce the upcoming quote with at least one line of text. Then, the entire quote will be indented, according to the standards you're following, and cited in the same way as short quotes.

    Here's an example of a block quote, according to APA style:

While leading his men through the Revolutionary War, General Washington notably said:

Nothing short of Independence, it appears to me, can possibly do … To see men without Cloat〈hes〉 to cover their nakedness—without Blankets to lay on—without Shoes, by which their Marches might be traced by the Blood from their feet—and almost as often without Provisions as with; Marching through frost & Snow, and at Christmas taking up their Winter Quarters within a days March of the enemy, without a House or Hutt to cover them till they could be built & submitting to it without a murmur, is a Mark of patience & obedience which in my opinion can scarce be parallel’d. (Dunn, 52-55)

  • Adding or omitting words in quotes: If you add or change words in a quotation, you should put brackets around them to indicate that they are not part of the original quote. If you omit words from a quotation, you should indicate the deleted word(s) by using an ellipsis, with a space on either side.

Examples of Quotes for Speeches and Essays

Whatever direction your speech or essay takes, there's a host of quotations to choose from. Let's look at some striking quotes worthy of inclusion in your next speech or essay.


  • Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. - Steve Jobs
  • Try not to become a man of success, but rather try to become a man of value. - Albert Einstein


  • The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character — that is the goal of true education. - Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • Education isn't preparation for life; education is life itself. - John Dewey


  • A business that makes nothing but money is a poor business. - Henry Ford
  • If something is important enough, even if the odds are against you, you should still do it. - Elon Musk


  • A man who wants to lead the orchestra must turn his back on the crowd. - Max Lucado
  • Don’t be satisfied with stories, how things have gone with others. Unfold your own myth. - Rumi


  • Our attitude towards others determines their attitude towards us. - Earl Nightingale
  • You can, you should, and if you’re brave enough to start, you will. - Stephen King


  • You can’t be a scientist if you’re uncomfortable with ignorance, because scientists live at the boundary between what is known and unknown in the cosmos. - Neil Degrasse Tyson
  • Men love to wonder, and that is the seed of science. - Ralph Waldo Emerson


  • The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything. - Warren Buffet
  • You don’t have to be a genius or a visionary or even a college graduate to be successful. You just need a framework and a dream. - Michael Dell

Adding Weight to Your Words

Quoting an industry titan or an authority in your field adds credibility to whatever idea you're trying to convey in your speech or essay. It also encourages the audience to consider the fact that, if a well-respected figure feels a certain way, perhaps they should, too. Remember, being selective with quotes and using them strategically will make your speech or essay much stronger than packing in lots of quotes and drowning out your own voice.

When searching for a quotation that will drive your idea home, take a look at YourDictionary’s database of quotes. All you have to do is decide which direction you want to take and let the reinforcements come to you.