The rules set forth in this section are customary in the United States. Great Britain and other countries in the Commonwealth of Nations are governed by quite different conventions. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Rule 3a in this section, a rule that has the advantage of being far simpler than Britain’s and the disadvantage of being far less logical.
Rule 1. Use double quotation marks to set off a direct (word-for-word) quotation.
Correct: “When will you be here?” he asked.
Incorrect: He asked “when I would be there.”
Rule 2. Either quotation marks or italics are customary for titles: magazines, books, plays, films, songs, poems, article titles, chapter titles, etc.
Rule 3a. Periods and commas always go inside quotation marks.
The sign said, “Walk.” Then it said, “Don’t Walk,” then, “Walk,” all within thirty seconds.
He yelled, “Hurry up.”
Rule 3b. Use single quotation marks for quotations within quotations.
Example: He said, “Dan cried, ‘Do not treat me that way.’ ”
Note that the period goes inside both the single and double quotation marks.
Rule 4. As a courtesy, make sure there is visible space at the start or end of a quotation between adjacent single and double quotation marks. (Your word processing program may do this automatically.)
Not ample space: He said, “Dan cried, ‘Do not treat me that way.'”
Ample space: He said, “Dan cried, ‘Do not treat me that way.’ ”
Rule 5a. Quotation marks are often used with technical terms, terms used in an unusual way, or other expressions that vary from standard usage.
It’s an oil-extraction method known as “fracking.”
He did some “experimenting” in his college days.
I had a visit from my “friend” the tax man.
Rule 5b. Never use single quotation marks in sentences like the previous three.
Incorrect: I had a visit from my ‘friend’ the tax man.
The single quotation marks in the above sentence are intended to send a message to the reader that friend is being used in a special way: in this case, sarcastically. Avoid this invalid usage. Single quotation marks are valid only within a quotation, as per Rule 3b, above.
Rule 6. When quoted material runs more than one paragraph, start each new paragraph with opening quotation marks, but do not use closing quotation marks until the end of the passage.
Example: She wrote: “I don’t paint anymore. For a while I thought it was just a phase that I’d get over.
“Now, I don’t even try.”
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).
Sometimes a writer needs to interrupt or divide a quotation.
In interrupted quotations, the speaker tag comes in the middle of the quotation and in the middle of the sentence.men talking
The speaker tag is the part of the sentence that tells the reader who is talking.
Examples of speaker tags:
the boy stated
the teacher explained
First, let us look at some regular quotations with speaker tags.
Here is a regular quotation with the speaker tag at the beginning of the quoted sentence.
My brother said, “I need the car today, so I can go to work.”
Here is another regular quotation with the speaker tag at the end of the quoted sentence.
“When you do your math homework tonight, remember to show all of your work,” explained the teacher.
We can make both of these sentences into interrupted quotations by putting the speaker tag in the middle of the quoted sentence.
“I need the car today,” my brother said, “so I can go to work.”
“When you do your math homework tonight,” explained the teacher, “remember to show all of your work.”
Rules for writing interrupted quotations:
1. Use quotation marks around both parts of the interrupted quotation
“The book,” whispered the librarian, “is on the second shelf by the wall.”
“When Mom comes home,” my sister said, “tell her I’m going to Sandy’s house.”
girl on phone
2. Quotations are separated from the speaker tag with commas
A) For the first half of the quotation, put the comma inside the quotation marks
B) For the second half of the quotation, put the comma after the speaker tag
“Did you know,” asked the teacher, “that salamanders are amphibians?”
Notice that the first comma is after the word “know” and inside the quotation marks.
The second comma is after the word “teacher” and before the second set of quotation marks.
“My love,” swooned the man, “will you marry me?”
Notice that the first comma is after the word “love” and inside the quotation marks.
The second comma is after the word “man” and before the second set of quotation marks.
man proposing to woman
3. Follow normal capitalization rules
A) Capitalize the first word in the sentence
“Your dog ran out the door,” she said, “because you left it open.”
“My husband took me out for my birthday, “Mrs. Smith exclaimed, “and then gave me new earrings!”
B) The second half of the quotation does not begin with a capital letter, unless it is a proper noun or title
“Please tell your parents, “the man on the phone said, “Amy will be there at 5:00.”
In this sentence, “Amy” is capitalized in the second half of the quotation because it is a name and a proper noun.
“Students,” Miss Smith instructed, “please line up at the door.”
In this sentence, “please” is not capitalized because it is not a proper noun or a title.
“Miss Smith” is capitalized because it is a proper noun.
4. End punctuation goes inside the final quotation marks
Did you know,” asked Mrs. Jones, “that the sunflower is the state flower of Kansas”?
Did you know,” asked Mrs. Jones, “that the sunflower is the state flower of Kansas?”
woman with sunflowers
“When your brother gets home,'” my dad yelled, “tell him I need to talk to him in my office”!
“When your brother gets home,'” my dad yelled, “tell him I need to talk to him in my office!”
The most common reason to use single quotation marks is to quote someone who is quoting someone else. The rules differ in British English, but in American English, you enclose the primary speaker’s comments in double quotation marks, and then you enclose the thing they are quoting in single quotation marks. You nest them, with the double quotation marks on the outside and the single quotation marks on the inside.
For example, imagine you’ve interviewed Aardvark for a magazine article about his harrowing ordeal with an arrow, and he said, “Squiggly saved my life when he yelled, ‘Watch out, Aardvark.’ ”
If you’re ever in the extremely rare position of having to nest another quotation inside a sentence like that, you would use double quotation marks again for the third nested quote.
Use Single Quotation Marks in Headlines
The Associated Press uses single quotation marks for quotations in headlines.
Use Single Quotation Marks to Highlight Words Not Being Used for Their Meaning
It’s the convention in certain disciplines such as philosophy, theology, and linguistics to highlight words with special meaning by using single quotation marks instead of double quotation marks.
Use a Thin Space Between a Single Quotation Mark and a Double Quotation Mark
It can be hard to see a single quotation mark that’s immediately followed by a double quotation marks, so typesetters sometimes insert something called a thin space between the two. A thin space is just what it sounds like: a space that’s thinner than a regular space.
The basic rule of thumb with paragraphing is to keep one idea to one paragraph. If you begin to transition into a new idea, it belongs in a new paragraph. There are some simple ways to tell if you are on the same topic or a new one. You can have one idea and several bits of supporting evidence within a single paragraph. You can also have several points in a single paragraph as long as they relate to the overall topic of the paragraph. If the single points start to get long, then perhaps elaborating on each of them and placing them in their own paragraphs is the route to go.
To be as effective as possible, a paragraph should contain each of the following: Unity, Coherence, A Topic Sentence, and Adequate Development. As you will see, all of these traits overlap. Using and adapting them to your individual purposes will help you construct effective paragraphs.
The entire paragraph should concern itself with a single focus. If it begins with one focus or major point of discussion, it should not end with another or wander within different ideas.
Coherence is the trait that makes the paragraph easily understandable to a reader. You can help create coherence in your paragraphs by creating logical bridges and verbal bridges.
The same idea of a topic is carried over from sentence to sentence
Successive sentences can be constructed in parallel form
Key words can be repeated in several sentences
Synonymous words can be repeated in several sentences
Pronouns can refer to nouns in previous sentences
Transition words can be used to link ideas from different sentences
A topic sentence
A topic sentence is a sentence that indicates in a general way what idea or thesis the paragraph is going to deal with. Although not all paragraphs have clear-cut topic sentences, and despite the fact that topic sentences can occur anywhere in the paragraph (as the first sentence, the last sentence, or somewhere in the middle), an easy way to make sure your reader understands the topic of the paragraph is to put your topic sentence near the beginning of the paragraph. (This is a good general rule for less experienced writers, although it is not the only way to do it). Regardless of whether you include an explicit topic sentence or not, you should be able to easily summarize what the paragraph is about.
The topic (which is introduced by the topic sentence) should be discussed fully and adequately. Again, this varies from paragraph to paragraph, depending on the author’s purpose, but writers should be wary of paragraphs that only have two or three sentences. It’s a pretty good bet that the paragraph is not fully developed if it is that short.
Some methods to make sure your paragraph is well-developed:
Use examples and illustrations
Cite data (facts, statistics, evidence, details, and others)
Examine testimony (what other people say such as quotes and paraphrases)
Use an anecdote or story
Define terms in the paragraph
Compare and contrast
Evaluate causes and reasons
Examine effects and consequences
Analyze the topic
Describe the topic
Offer a chronology of an event (time segments)
How do I know when to start a new paragraph?
You should start a new paragraph when:
When you begin a new idea or point. New ideas should always start in new paragraphs. If you have an extended idea that spans multiple paragraphs, each new point within that idea should have its own paragraph.
To contrast information or ideas. Separate paragraphs can serve to contrast sides in a debate, different points in an argument, or any other difference.
When your readers need a pause. Breaks between paragraphs function as a short “break” for your readers—adding these in will help your writing more readable. You would create a break if the paragraph becomes too long or the material is complex.
When you are ending your introduction or starting your conclusion. Your introductory and concluding material should always be in a new paragraph. Many introductions and conclusions have multiple paragraphs depending on their content, length, and the writer’s purpose.
Transitions and signposts
Two very important elements of paragraphing are signposts and transitions. Signposts are internal aids to assist readers; they usually consist of several sentences or a paragraph outlining what the article has covered and where the article will be going.
Transitions are usually one or several sentences that “transition” from one idea to the next. Transitions can be used at the end of most paragraphs to help the paragraphs flow one into the next.
Semicolons have other functions, too. But first, a caveat: avoid the common mistake of using a semicolon to replace a colon (see the “Colons” section).
Incorrect: I have one goal; to find her.
Correct: I have one goal: to find her.
Rule 1. A semicolon can replace a period if the writer wishes to narrow the gap between two closely linked sentences.
Call me tomorrow; you can give me an answer then.
We have paid our dues; we expect all the privileges listed in the contract.
Rule 2. Use a semicolon before such words and terms as namely, however, therefore, that is, i.e., for example, e.g., for instance, etc., when they introduce a complete sentence. It is also preferable to use a comma after these words and terms.
Example: Bring any two items; however, sleeping bags and tents are in short supply.
Rule 3. Use a semicolon to separate units of a series when one or more of the units contain commas.
Incorrect: The conference has people who have come from Moscow, Idaho, Springfield, California, Alamo, Tennessee, and other places as well.
Note that with only commas, that sentence is hopeless.
Correct: The conference has people who have come from Moscow, Idaho; Springfield, California; Alamo, Tennessee; and other places as well.
Rule 4. A semicolon may be used between independent clauses joined by a connector, such as and, but, or, nor, etc., when one or more commas appear in the first clause.
Example: When I finish here, and I will soon, I’ll be glad to help you; and that is a promise I will keep.
Rule 1. Use a colon to introduce a series of items. Do not capitalize the first item after the colon (unless it’s a proper noun).
You may be required to bring many things: sleeping bags, pans, utensils, and warm clothing.
I want the following items: butter, sugar, and flour.
I need an assistant who can do the following: input data, write reports, and complete tax forms.
Rule 2. Avoid using a colon before a list when it directly follows a verb or preposition.
Incorrect: I want: butter, sugar, and flour.
I want the following: butter, sugar, and flour.
I want butter, sugar, and flour.
Incorrect: I’ve seen the greats, including: Barrymore, Guinness, and Streep.
Correct: I’ve seen the greats, including Barrymore, Guinness, and Streep.
Rule 3. When listing items one by one, one per line, following a colon, capitalization and ending punctuation are optional when using single words or phrases preceded by letters, numbers, or bullet points. If each point is a complete sentence, capitalize the first word and end the sentence with appropriate ending punctuation. Otherwise, there are no hard and fast rules, except be consistent.
I want an assistant who can do the following:
complete tax forms
The following are requested:
Wool sweaters for possible cold weather.
Wet suits for snorkeling.
Introductions to the local dignitaries.
These are the pool rules:
Do not run.
If you see unsafe behavior, report it to the lifeguard.
Did you remember your towel?
Rule 4. A colon instead of a semicolon may be used between independent clauses when the second sentence explains, illustrates, paraphrases, or expands on the first sentence.
Example: He got what he worked for: he really earned that promotion.
If a complete sentence follows a colon, as in the previous example, it is up to the writer to decide whether to capitalize the first word. Capitalizing a sentence after a colon is generally a judgment call; if what follows a colon is closely related to what precedes it, there is no need for a capital.
Note: A capital letter generally does not introduce a simple phrase following a colon.
Example: He got what he worked for: a promotion.
Rule 5. A colon may be used to introduce a long quotation. Some style manuals say to indent one-half inch on both the left and right margins; others say to indent only on the left margin. Quotation marks are not used.
Example: The author of Touched, Jane Straus, wrote in the first chapter:
Georgia went back to her bed and stared at the intricate patterns of burned moth wings in the translucent glass of the overhead light. Her father was in “hyper mode” again where nothing could calm him down.
Rule 6. Use a colon rather than a comma to follow the salutation in a business letter, even when addressing someone by his or her first name. (Never use a semicolon after a salutation.) A comma is used after the salutation in more informal correspondence.
Formal: Dear Ms. Rodriguez:
Informal: Dear Dave
Rule 1. Use a question mark only after a direct question.
Correct: Will you go with me?
Incorrect: I’m asking if you will go with me?
Rule 2a. A question mark replaces a period at the end of a sentence.
Incorrect: Will you go with me?.
Rule 2b. Because of Rule 2a, capitalize the word that follows a question mark.
Some writers choose to overlook this rule in special cases.
Example: Will you go with me? with Joe? with anyone?
Rule 3a. Avoid the common trap of using question marks with indirect questions, which are statements that contain questions. Use a period after an indirect question.
Incorrect: I wonder if he would go with me?
I wonder if he would go with me.
I wonder: Would he go with me?
Rule 3b. Some sentences are statements—or demands—in the form of a question. They are called rhetorical questions because they don’t require or expect an answer. Many should be written without question marks.
Why don’t you take a break.
Would you kids knock it off.
What wouldn’t I do for you!
Rule 4. Use a question mark when a sentence is half statement and half question.
Example: You do care, don’t you?
Rule 5. The placement of question marks with quotation marks follows logic. If a question is within the quoted material, a question mark should be placed inside the quotation marks.
She asked, “Will you still be my friend?”
The question is part of the quotation.
Do you agree with the saying, “All’s fair in love and war”?
The question is outside the quotation.
I’m truly shocked by your behavior!
Yay! We won!
Rule 2. An exclamation point replaces a period at the end of a sentence.
Incorrect: I’m truly shocked by your behavior!.
Rule 3. Do not use an exclamation point in formal business writing.
Rule 4. Overuse of exclamation points is a sign of undisciplined writing. Do not use even one of these marks unless you’re convinced it is justified.
Even the most experienced writers have a problem remembering the proper punctuation for certain types of titles. Books are italicized (or underlined) and articles are put in quotation marks. That’s about as far as many people can remember.
Following are guidelines for punctuating titles according to Modern Language Association (MLA) standards.
There is a trick to remembering how to treat titles, and it works well enough that you can commit most types of titles to memory.
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College Essay Structure
It’s the big and little trick.
Big things and things that can stand on their own, like books, are italicized. Little things that are dependent or that come as part of a group, like chapters, are put into quotation marks.
For example, a CD or album are major (big) works that can be divided into smaller parts, or songs. The song names (small part) are punctuated with quotation marks.
The Sweet Escape, by Gwen Stefani, includes the song “Wind It Up.”
Italicize or underline any published collection, like a book of poetry. Put the individual entry, like a poem, in quotation marks. However: a long, epic poem that is often published on its own would be treated like a book. The Odyssey is one example.
Punctuating Titles of Works of Art
Creating a work of art is an enormous task, isn’t it? For that reason, you can think of art as a big accomplishment. Okay, that might sound corny, but it will help you remember! Individual works of art like paintings and sculptures are underlined or italicized:
The Last Supper
Note: A photograph, which is much smaller than a work of art, is placed in quotation marks!
Titles and Names to Italicize
A sculpture or statue
A TV Series
A cartoon series
Titles to Put Into Quotation Marks
An individual episode in a TV series (like “The Soup Nazi” on Seinfeld)
A cartoon episode, like “Trouble With Dogs”
A newspaper story
More Tips on Punctuating Titles
Some titles are merely capitalized and not given additional punctuation. These include:
Religious works, like The Bible or The Koran
Emphasis: When you want to emphasize a certain word or phrase in a sentence. (She was the only girl in the class who got 100% on the exam.)
Titles of Works: (Please note that we can also underline the following)
Books: (Elements of Style, Harry Potter and the Deadly Hallows, Jane Eyre)
Magazines: (Time magazine, Newsweek, Cosmpolitan)
Newspapers: (USA Today, Wall Street Journal, San Francisco Chronicle)
Plays: (Romeo & Juliet, Waiting for Godot, Uncle Vanya)
Movies: (Batman, Casablanca, Twilight)
Works of Art: (Monet’s Waterlilies, Van Gogh’s Starry Starry Night, Micheangelo’s Mona Lisa)
TV/radio programs: (American Idol, BBC’s Woman’s Hour, The Simpsons)
CD/Album: (Michael Jackson’s Thriller album, Parachutes by Cold Play)
Foreign Words/Technical Terms/Unfamiliar Words: When we are writing a text in one particular language (i.e. English) and want to introduce a foreign word or phrase, we tend to italicize the foreign words. (The word for cat in Spanish is gato.)
Names of Trains, Ships, Aircraft, and Spacecraft: (NASA’s Challenger, QE2)