How to Use Block Quotations in Writing

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

Block Quote Representation

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A block quotation is a direct quotation that is not placed inside quotation marks but instead is set off from the rest of the text by starting it on a new line and indenting it from the left margin. Block quotations are sometimes called an extract, a set-off quotation, a long quotation, and a display quotation.

Customarily, quotations that run longer than four or five lines are blocked, but as noted below, style guides disagree on the minimum length for a block quotation.

In online writing, block quotations are sometimes set off in italics so that they're more easily recognized. (See the quotation from Amy Einsohn below.)

Andrea Lunsford offers this cautionary note regarding block quotations: 

"Too many may make your writing seem choppy—or suggest that you have not relied enough on your own thinking." (The St. Martin's Handbook, 2011)

Examples and Observations

  • "Block quotations are very common in scholarly writing, long investigative pieces, and magazine articles. But since block quotations are unsuitable for narrow newspaper columns, they seldom appear in daily journalism." (John C. Brereton and Margaret A. Mansfield, Writing on the Job. W.W. Norton, 1997)

Recommended Length of Block Quotations

  • Chicago [The Chicago Manual of Style] suggests setting off quotations that are eight lines or longer, WIT [Words Into Type] puts the cutoff at five lines, and APA [Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association] calls for setting off quotations longer than forty words. Many publishers have in-house rules that define "longer" as more than, say, six or eight lines  (Amy Einsohn, The Copyeditor's Handbook. University of California Press, 2006)

    Style guides do not agree on the minimum length for a block quotation. In some cases, two or more short quotations may be put in block format so that readers can easily compare them.

    Indenting and Spacing in Block Quotations

    • "Long direct quotations, called block quotations, are indented from the margin instead of being placed in quotation marks. In Harvard style, a quotation longer than thirty words should begin on a new line and be indented. Single spacing and a smaller type font than the rest of the text are used. In APA style, a quotation of forty words or longer is indented five spaces. In MLA style, a quotation longer than four lines should be indented ten spaces. In both APA and MLA styles, long quotations are double-spaced." (Lester Faigley, The Little Penguin Handbook. Pearson, 2014)

      Block Quotations in MLA Style

      Researchers in English literature usually follow the style guidelines of the Modern Language Association (MLA). The MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers (New York: MLA, 2009) offers this advice for creating block quotations:

      • "If a quotation extends to more than four lines when run into the text, set it off from your text by beginning a new line, indenting one inch from the left margin, and typing it double-spaced, without adding quotation marks. A colon generally introduces a quotation displayed in this way, though sometimes the context may require a different mark of punctuation or none at all. If you quote only a single paragraph or part of one, do not indent the first line more than the rest. A parenthetical reference for a prose quotation set off from the text follows the last line of the quotation. One inch is equivalent to 10 spaces." (94)

      Introducing a Block Quotation

      • "When a block quotation is introduced by a word or phrase like thus or the following, that word or phrase should be followed by a colon. When a verb-of-saying introduces the block quotation, a comma is used. If it is introduced by a complete statement, a period should be used. When the introductory phrase forms a grammatically complete unit with the block quotations that follows it, no punctuation should be used." (Robert Hudson, The Christian Writer's Manual of Style, 2004)
      • "Present a prose quotation of five or more lines as a block quotation. Introduce the quotation in your own words in the text... If you introduce the quotation with a complete sentence, end the sentence with a colon. If you use only an attribution phrase such as notes, claims, argues, or according to along with the author's name, end the phrase with a comma. If you weave the quotation into the syntax of your sentence, do not use any punctuation before the quotation if no punctuation would ordinarily appear there..." (Kate L. Turabian, A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations: Chicago Style for Students and Researchers, 7th ed., rev. by Wayne C. Booth et al. The University of Chicago Press, 2007)
      • "Thus, do not introduce a block quote: 'In Smith v. Jones, the Court held:...'Rather, introduce the quote: 'In Smith v. Jones, the Court held that our client wins and the other guy loses:...' By using this form, the judge will get your point even when he does not read the block quotation."(Mark Herrmann, The Curmudgeon's Guide to Practicing Law. ABA, 2006