How to Use Block Quotations in Writing

The Rules Differ, Depending on the Writing Style Guide

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 may be called extracts, set-off quotations, long quotations, or display quotations. Block quotations are used in academic writing but are also common in journalistic and nonfiction writing. While block quotations are perfectly acceptable, it's important for writers to be selective about their use. In some cases, block quotations are unnecessarily long and include more content than is needed to make or support a point.

There is no single rule of thumb for formatting block quotations. Instead, each major style guide recommends slightly different ways of selecting, introducing, and setting off the quotations. Before formatting, it's important to check on the style used for a particular publication, website, or class.

Key Takeaways: Block Quotations

  • A block quotation is a direct quotation that is indented from the left margin and begins on a new line.
  • Block quotations are used when a quotation exceeds a specific length. Requirements for length vary, depending on the style guide being used.
  • Block quotes can be effective tools for persuading readers or proving a point, but they should be used sparingly and edited appropriately.

Recommended Length of Block Quotations

Customarily, quotations that run longer than four or five lines are blocked, but style guides often disagree on the minimum length for a block quotation. Some styles are more concerned with word counts, while others focus on the number of lines. While each "official" style guide has its own approach to block quotes, individual publishers may have unique in-house rules.

Some of the more common style guides require block quotations as follows:

  • APA: Quotes longer than 40 words or four lines
  • Chicago: Quotes longer than 100 words or eight lines
  • MLA: Quotes of prose longer than four lines; quotes of poetry/verse longer than three lines
  • AMA: Quotes longer than four lines

MLA Block Quotes

Researchers in English literature usually follow the style guidelines of the Modern Language Association (MLA). The "MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers" recommends the following for a quotation that will run more than four lines when it is included in the text:

  • When appropriate in the context of the text, introduce the block quotation with a colon.
  • Begin a new line indented one inch from the left margin; do not indent the first line more than the other lines in the block quotation.
  • Type the quote double-spaced.
  • Do not place quotation marks around the block of quoted text.

APA Block Quotes

APA stands for American Psychological Association, and APA style is used to format anything in the social sciences. When a quotation is longer than four lines line, APA requires that it be styled as follows:

  • Set it off from your text by beginning a new line, indenting one inch from the left margin.
  • Type it double-spaced, without adding quotation marks.
  • If you quote only a single paragraph or part of one, do not indent the first line more than the rest.
  • One inch is equivalent to 10 spaces.

Chicago Style Block Quotes

Often used for writing in the humanities, the Chicago (or Turabian) Style Guide was created by the University of Chicago Press and is now in its 17th edition. It is sometimes referred to as the "Editors' Bible." Rules for block quotes in Chicago Style are as follows:

  • Use block format for quotations longer than five lines or two paragraphs.
  • Do not use quotation marks.
  • Indent the entire quotation by half an inch.
  • Precede and follow the block quote by a blank line.

American Medical Association Block Quotes

The AMA style guide was developed by the American Medical Association and is used almost exclusively for medical research papers. Rules for block quotes in the AMA style are as follows:

  • Use block formats for quotations that are longer than four lines of text.
  • Do not use quotation marks.
  • Use reduced type.
  • Use paragraph indents only if the material cited is known to begin a paragraph.
  • If the block quote contains a secondary quote, use double quotation marks around the contained quotation.