Quotes For Essay Writing Explained (2024 Updated Guide) 

William Cohen
Published by William Cohen
Last Updated On: December 18, 2021

Quotes are a vital part of every essay and the critical support for your arguments that you’ll need throughout college or, possibly, your career. Still, many students don’t know how to use quotes for essay writing. You might not either.

If so, it’s high time you learn. Otherwise, you risk a bad grade or, worse, plagiarising someone else’s work.

What Are Quotes?

Essay quotes

A quote is the repetition of a phrase or a short piece of writing from a longer work or the repetition of what someone else has said [1].

Quotes can be:

  • Direct - using someone else’s work or utterance verbatim
  • Indirect - using someone else’s ideas, opinions, or statements and retelling them in your own words; paraphrasing

Depending on the length, quotes can also be:

  • Short - up to 4 lines of prose and 3 lines of poetry
  • Long - more than 4 lines of prose and 3 lines of poetry

3 Reasons To Use Them

There are 3 main reasons why you need to use quotes in essays:

  1. establish authority and credibility
  2. support your claims, theses, and opinions
  3. demonstrate your in-depth knowledge of the topic

If a quote isn’t helping you achieve any of these 3 things, then you might need to reconsider using it.

MLA In-text Citations

A man pointing and skimming through a book

Since quotes are mostly used in the humanities, we’ll discuss how to write in-text citations according to the MLA citation guidelines.

Short quotes can be embedded within a sentence:

The popularity of English is often attributed to “colonialism, migration, and - most recently - globalization.” (Van Gelderen 274)

Lengthy quotations have no quotation marks and require a separate content block indented by ½ inch:

The popularity of English can be attributed to three factors: 

English has spread because of colonialism, migration, and - most recently - globalization. Speakers of many languages feel they need to speak English to participate in the business, government, music, the arts, and academia. There are a number of worries connected with this spread. (Van Gelderen 274)

Parenthetical Citation

MLA style uses parenthetical citation, which means relevant source information should be included within the parenthesis following your quote [2].

Embed the author’s last name and page number within the parenthesis:

The popularity of English is often attributed to “colonialism, migration, and - most recently - globalization.” (Van Gelderen 274)

  • If you mentioned the author’s surname in the text, eliminate it from the parenthesis:

Van Gelderen attributes the popularity of English to “colonialism, migration, and most recently - globalization.” (274)

  • If your source has no known authors, include only the title of the work you’re referring to in the parenthesis. You either:
    • italicize the title - for short works, such as online articles (e.g. “How to Use Quotes in Your Essay Like a Pro”)
    • add quotation marks - for longer works, such as books and scholarly articles (e.g. Arabian Nights)

When using sources with two authors, include both authors’ last names in the parenthesis:

New studies have shown a “strong association between poverty experiences, in particular food insufficiency and hunger with HIV treatment adherence” (Kalichman and Grebler 18).

If your source has at least three authors, give the first author’s last name and replace the rest with “et al.”:

Many studies concluded that the “association between food security and perceived stress was statistically significant” (Hjelm et al. 115).

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How Much Should I Quote?

A man writing on a paper

There’s a fine line between using quotations to support your original claims and plagiarising someone else’s work.

It would help if you find a way to strike the right balance between originality and evidence. A good rule of thumb is to have at least two original text lines analyzing the quote per every line you quote [3].

Also, use this checklist of questions to determine whether to add a quote to your essay:

  • Is the quote relevant?
  • Is the source credible?
  • Does the quote offer new insights?
  • Does the quote support my thesis?
  • Have I already included similar quotes in my essay?

What if I Change the Quote?

Embedding quotes in your essay verbatim can be tricky. The quotes may include some details you’d rather leave out or miss other information that provides relevant context.

You’re allowed to change the quotes as long as you let your readers know you’ve altered them.

To indicate you’ve omitted some parts of your quote, use ellipsis. Replace the missed content with three periods and white space before each period:

New studies have shown a “strong association between poverty experiences,. . .with HIV treatment adherence” (Kalichman and Grebler 18).

In the above example, you can also see that the comma preceding the ellipsis is preserved. If your quote has a punctuation mark preceding the content you want to omit, make sure you include it as well.

If you’re adding a word or words in your quote, indicate this with brackets on both sides of your added content:

He left [his mother] thinking he’ll never come back home again.

Using Quotes for Essay Writing: The Bottom Line

Quoting isn’t a mandatory part of school essays for no good reason. Without proper quotes, your thesis will inevitably fail—no matter how ingenious it might be or how many long hours you worked on perfecting it.

What’s more, incorrect quoting will get you a bad grade and undermine the hard work you did.

To avoid this rookie mistake, use this article as your guide while writing your essay. You’ll use quotes like a pro in no time and avoid accidentally stealing someone else’s ideas and words.


  1. https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/quotation
  2. https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/research_and_citation/mla_style/mla_formatting_and_style_guide/mla_in_text_citations_the_basics.html
  3. https://www.plagiarism.org/article/quoting-material#:~:text=How%20Often%20Should%20I%20Quote,least%20two%20lines%20analyzing%20it.

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