Using Quotation Marks When Citing Information

Updated September 1, 2022
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When preparing a research paper, it’s important to know the rules for citation, especially as they pertain to quotation marks. According to the Modern Language Association (MLA), there are specific rules for when you should, or shouldn’t, be using quotation marks to cite information.

When To Use Quotation Marks in MLA Citations

Quotation marks (“ ”) are a form of punctuation that set a certain portion of text apart from the rest of the text. They’re used to indicate things people have said or reference something from another piece of writing.

You already know how to use quotation marks in stories and everyday writing. But there are some specific times when quotation marks belong in your MLA citations, whether they’re in-text citations or works cited pages.

Quotation Marks With In-Text Citations

In MLA style, use quotation marks when citing particular types of sources in your writing. These sources include short stories, poems, articles in newspapers and other periodicals, subsets of books (as in Part I or Chapter 12 of a text), songs, essays, and episodes of TV or radio programming.

Examples of in-text citations with quotation marks include:

  • The New York Times writer Talmon Joseph Smith reflects the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina in his article “Remembering Katrina and Its Unlearned Lessons, 15 Years On.”
  • In Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem, “The Village Blacksmith,” Longfellow celebrates the family, the working man, and the value of hard work.
  • Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” examines the torture of guilt and keeping secrets.
  • As Bob Dylan says in his song “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” nothing ever stays the same — so be ready for change ahead.

Quotation Marks With Parenthetical Citations

If you’re quoting or paraphrasing a source that you haven’t mentioned in an in-text citation, you need to use parenthetical citations. In MLA, you typically list the author of an article with the page number the quote came from (or the line, when referencing a poem or song).

  • The majority of the study participants preferred the original flavor. (Murphy 56)
  • Gatsby set up his entire life simply to meet his love, Daisy, again. (Fitzgerald 124) 

But when there is no author listed, refer to the name of the article, short story, song, or poem, using quotation marks, within the parentheses for the citation.

  • This is the first election in modern history where a running mate came from the opposing party. (“Examining the Election Process”)
  • As the tree grows, its fruit will begin to appear around spring. (“A Gardener’s Reference for Fruiting Trees”)

Quotation Marks in Works Cited Pages

If sources have quotation marks in your text, they should have them in your works cited page as well.

  • Smith, Talmon Joseph. “Remembering Katrina and Its Unlearned Lessons, 15 Years On.” 21 Aug. 2020.
  • Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth. “The Village Blacksmith.” Nov. 1840.
  • Poe, Edgar Allen. “The Tell-Tale Heart.” Jan. 1843.
  • Dylan, Bob. “The Times They Are A-Changin’.” The Times They Are A-Changin, Jan. 1964.

Quotation Marks To Set Off Quotes

When including quoted material from another source in your writing, separate the quoted material from your own writing with quotation marks.

  • As E. Gordon Browne says in his biography Queen Victoria, “She lived for her country, and her country's love and admiration were her reward. During her reign the seas were swept clear of foreign foes, and her country took its place in the front rank of Great Powers.”
  • “Papa is the cleverest man in the world,” recollects Tolstoy’s son, Count Ilya Tolstoy, in Reminiscences of Tolstoy. “He always knows everything.”

Using Single Quotation Marks in Quotations

While double quotation marks set off full quotes, single quotation marks (‘ ’) set off quotes within those quotes (when the author of the quoted work is also quoting someone). Change their double quotation marks to single quotation marks when you quote them.

  • “When she was five years old the Princess Victoria began to have lessons, chiefly with a governess, Miss von Lehzen—’my dearly beloved angelic Lehzen,’ as she called her. These two remained devotedly attached to one another until the latter's death in 1870." (Browne)
  • “‘What’s this saber doing here?’ asked a young guardsman, Lieutenant Afanasyi Afanasyevitch Fet, of the footman one day as he entered the hall of Ivan Sergeyevitch Turgenieff's flat in St. Petersburg in the middle of the fifties. (Tolstoy)

Don’t Use Quotation Marks for Longer Quotes

If you’re quoting four or more lines of material in your paper, do not use quotation marks. Such a long quotation can be difficult to follow if kept within the body of your paper. 

Use block quotes instead. When the time comes to quote more than a line or two, it's important to start a new line and introduce the block quote. You'll want to indent it 0.5 inches on a standard letter-size sheet of paper. (As stated above, use quotation marks in the parenthetical citation if there is no listed author.)

That same day, President Kennedy's flag-draped casket was moved from the White House to the Capitol on a caisson drawn by six grey horses, accompanied by one riderless black horse. At Mrs. Kennedy's request, the cortege and other ceremonial details were modeled on the funeral of Abraham Lincoln. Crowds lined Pennsylvania Avenue and many wept openly as the caisson passed. During the 21 hours that the president's body lay in state in the Capitol Rotunda, about 250,000 people filed by to pay their respects. (“November 22, 1963: Death of the President”)

If there is speech or dialogue within the long quote. Put only the speech portion of the quote within quotation marks (double, not single).

There was nothing so very remarkable in that; nor did Alice think it so very much out of the way to hear the Rabbit say to itself, “Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be late!” (when she thought it over afterwards, it occurred to her that she ought to have wondered at this, but at the time it all seemed quite natural); but when the Rabbit actually took a watch out of its waistcoat-pocket, and looked at it, and then hurried on, Alice started to her feet, for it flashed across her mind that she had never before seen a rabbit with either a waistcoat-pocket, or a watch to take out of it, and burning with curiosity, she ran across the field after it, and fortunately was just in time to see it pop down a large rabbit-hole under the hedge. (Carroll)


Does Punctuation Go Inside the Quotation Marks?

Like every time you use a quotation mark, punctuation marks go inside the marks — unless that punctuation belongs to the sentence, not the quote. 

  • Hamlet asks: “But what is your affair in Elsinore?” (Question mark belongs to the quote)
  • Polonius exclaims, “Marry, well bethought!” (Exclamation mark belongs to the quote)
  • As Horatio observes, “He waxes desperate with imagination.” (Period belongs to the quote)
  • So why would Hamlet state “All is not well”? (Question mark belongs to the sentence)
  • I couldn’t believe it when Hamlet insists “To a nunnery, go”! (Exclamation mark belongs to the sentence)
  • Polonius explains that Hamlet has gone “into the madness wherein now he raves”. (Period belongs to the sentence)

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