How to Use Quotation Marks
A rundown of the general rules of when and where to use quotation marks.
Contributors:Sean M. Conrey, Mark Pepper, Allen Brizee
Last Edited: 2017-07-25 04:45:14
Using Quotation Marks
The primary function of quotation marks is to set off and represent exact language (either spoken or written) that has come from somebody else. The quotation mark is also used to designate speech acts in fiction and sometimes poetry. Since you will most often use them when working with outside sources, successful use of quotation marks is a practical defense against accidental plagiarism and an excellent practice in academic honesty. The following rules of quotation mark use are the standard in the United States, although it may be of interest that usage rules for this punctuation do vary in other countries.
The following covers the basic use of quotation marks. For details and exceptions consult the separate sections of this guide.
Direct quotations involve incorporating another person's exact words into your own writing.
1. Quotation marks always come in pairs. Do not open a quotation and fail to close it at the end of the quoted material.
2. Capitalize the first letter of a direct quote when the quoted material is a complete sentence.
Mr. Johnson, who was working in his field that morning, said, "The alien spaceship appeared right before my own two eyes."
3. Do not use a capital letter when the quoted material is a fragment or only a piece of the original material's complete sentence.
Although Mr. Johnson has seen odd happenings on the farm, he stated that the spaceship "certainly takes the cake" when it comes to unexplainable activity.
4. If a direct quotation is interrupted mid-sentence, do not capitalize the second part of the quotation.
"I didn't see an actual alien being," Mr. Johnson said, "but I sure wish I had."
5. In all the examples above, note how the period or comma punctuation always comes before the final quotation mark. It is important to realize also that when you are using MLA or some other form of documentation, this punctuation rule may change.
When quoting text with a spelling or grammar error, you should transcribe the error exactly in your own text. However, also insert the term sic in italics directly after the mistake, and enclose it in brackets. Sic is from the Latin, and translates to "thus," "so," or "just as that." The word tells the reader that your quote is an exact reproduction of what you found, and the error is not your own.
Mr. Johnson says of the experience, "It's made me reconsider the existence of extraterestials [sic]."
6. Quotations are most effective if you use them sparingly and keep them relatively short. Too many quotations in a research paper will get you accused of not producing original thought or material (they may also bore a reader who wants to know primarily what YOU have to say on the subject).
Indirect quotations are not exact wordings but rather rephrasings or summaries of another person's words. In this case, it is not necessary to use quotation marks. However, indirect quotations still require proper citations, and you will be committing plagiarism if you fail to do so.
Mr. Johnson, a local farmer, reported last night that he saw an alien spaceship on his own property.
Many writers struggle with when to use direct quotations versus indirect quotations. Use the following tips to guide you in your choice.
Use direct quotations when the source material uses language that is particularly striking or notable. Do not rob such language of its power by altering it.
Martin Luther King Jr. believed that the end of slavery was important and of great hope to millions of slaves done horribly wrong.
The above should never stand in for:
Martin Luther King Jr. said of the Emancipation Proclamation, "This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice."
Use an indirect quotation (or paraphrase) when you merely need to summarize key incidents or details of the text.
Use direct quotations when the author you are quoting has coined a term unique to her or his research and relevant within your own paper.
When to use direct quotes versus indirect quotes is ultimately a choice you'll learn a feeling for with experience. However, always try to have a sense for why you've chosen your quote. In other words, never put quotes in your paper simply because your teacher says, "You must use quotes."
It can be confusing to know which titles get italicized and which get quotation marks when citing them in your writing. An easy rule to remember is that short titles and sections of work, such as a chapter title in a book or an episode in a TV show, get quotation marks while larger titles or works, such as a book title or an album, are italicized. However, which one you use may depend on the style and format of writing you are following.
Why Use Italics and Quotation Marks in Titles?
Italics and quotation marks are generally used to set a composition title apart from the text surrounding it. For example, if you were writing the sentence "I read The Cat in the Hat," it wouldn't necessarily be clear what the title was, or even that there was a title at all.
So, italics and quotation marks make the title stand out. A sentence such as "I read The Cat in the Hat" or "I read "The Cat in the Hat" today" is a lot clearer.
Should you set off a title with italics or should you set it off with quotation marks? Well, there are rules for that.
Rules for Using Italics and Quotation Marks in Titles
There are several different writing style guides: The Modern Language Association (MLA) is the style generally used in arts and humanities papers; the American Psychological Association (APA) is used for social sciences; the Associated Press Stylebook (AP) is commonly used in magazines, newspapers and the internet; and the Chicago Manual of Style (Chicago), one of the most well-known formats, is followed in a wide variety of disciplines from publishing to science.
Each of the style guides have their own rules when it comes to formatting titles. AP style is one of the simpler styles to remember, as it does not use italics in composition titles at all.
All formats except AP recommend the following titles should be in italics:
- Ballets, Operas, Symphonies
- Comic strips
- Exhibitions at a museum
- Aircraft and spacecraft
All formats except APA recommend that the following titles should be in quotation marks:
- Book chapters
- Names of video games
- Single episodes of TV and radio shows
- Unpublished writing such as manuscripts or lectures
- Album tracks or singles
- Podcast episodes
- Short stories and poems
APA differs from other formats in that it does not use either quotation marks or italics for titles of shorter works, such as essays that are in collections, lectures or journal articles. These shorter works are formatted in regular type.
MLA and Chicago, while agreeing on most citation styles, diverge on some points. In MLA the titles of online databases should be italicized; Chicago style says to set those in regular type. MLA says that all websites should be italicized while Chicago style says they should be in regular type.
When Not to Use Italics or Quotation Marks
There are certain titles of things that should not be in italics or quotation marks. The following titles should always be set in regular type:
- Scriptures of major religions
- Constitutional documents
- Legal documents
- Traditional games (such as football, hopscotch or blackjack)
- Commercial products (such as Cocoa Puffs)
- Political documents
- Names of artifacts
- Names of buildings
Print and Online Style Differences
Italicizing is easy to do on the computer, but not practical when you are hand writing something. In such cases, underlining is still used and is the same as writing a title in italics.
When formatting titles for the web, be aware that you should go with whatever style is most visually appealing. Online formats tend to be less formal in style compared to print materials. Styling for the web is about attracting visitors to the site so make the title stand out without looking clunky in order to get more attention.
Determine What to Use
By practicing the above rules for using italics and quotation marks you will find that it will become easier to determine what you should use. If you are uncertain about what to use, ask yourself if the title of a work appears inside a larger body of work or if it can stand alone. If the title belongs inside a larger body of work, use quotation marks. If the title is for a body of work that stands alone, it should be in italics. And remember that consistency is key, whichever style you choose.
To learn about which words should be capitalized in a title read YourDictionary's article on Rules for Capitalization in Titles.