Quoting a book within your own writing isn’t as hard to do as some writers may think, and it’s essential to maintain your integrity and reputation as a good writer. There are a number of ways to quote someone else’s work in your own writing, and there are various style guides already in existence that show precisely how to quote a book directly so as to avoid the danger of plagiarism. Additionally, fiction writers will make use of the same style of quotation for their character dialogue.

First, let’s define what quotes are and why we use them.

Quoting A Book

What are quotes?

Merriam-Webster defines quotes as “to repeat (something written or said by another person) exactly.” (See what I did there? I put quotation marks around the exact wording from their website. I also cited it, but that’s a blog for another day.)

Why do we use them?

We use quotes to indicate that a thought or exact wording comes from someone else, and we’re either relaying it word for word or have expanded on someone else’s idea. As JoEllen Nordstrom of FirstEditing.com rightly points out, “The main rule for quoting, paraphrasing, and summarizing is simple: give credit where credit is due.” You wouldn’t want someone else taking your words and using them as their own, so be sure you use quotes for someone else’s work.

The style guide you use will depend on the genre of your writing and for whom you are writing. The three main style guides are:

  1. Chicago Manual of Style, aka Chicago or CMOS, used for most fiction and some nonfiction writing.
  2. Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, known as APA, for academic writing.
  3. MLA Handbook (Modern Language Association), formerly known as the MLA Style Manual, generally used when writing for the arts and humanities.

Always check with your publisher or the entity you’re writing for, as some journals and universities have their own style guides.

Now, on to the nitty-gritty.

Incorporating Quotations into Your Text

Basically, you can incorporate quotes from other sources into your manuscript either within a sentence, if it’s just a few lines, or in a block quotation if it’s four or more lines. In this blog from FirstEditing.com, JoEllen Nordstrom explains the two basic ways to write quotations; either in-text (aka run-in) or using a block quotation. You’ll see that I’ve made the font smaller (some style guides request that you make the line spacing smaller as well, so always double-check), and I’ve indented both margins half an inch in from the edge so it forms a block of text (hence why it’s called a block quotation).

Run-in quotations

If your quotation forms part of your sentence, check that the citation is placed after the closing quotation mark, and followed by the rest of the surrounding sentence or the final punctuation of that sentence.

Transcendental phenomenology is about how each individual “will put out of action all the convictions we have been accepting up to now” (Husserl 49).

Quoting A Book

Block quotations

If you want to quote more than four lines of text, ensure that it is set off as a block quotation. Be sure to find out what your style guide says about block quotations. However, there are a few general rules about setting them out…

Proper Use of Quotation Marks in Fiction Writing

The main use of quotation marks in fiction writing will be surrounding the dialogue of your characters. Even though they’re fictional, they’re still speaking, so their words will be treated like any other quotation. Here is another example from FirstEditing.com’s founder, JoEllen Nordstrom.

John and David ran into the woods. The sky darkened as the sun dipped below the horizon. The cool wind bit at their cheeks. A branch snapped in the distance.

“Did you hear that?” John said.

“Yes,” David replied. His heart pounded in fear.

The boys quietly followed the path down toward the river. They had heard of a ghost haunting these woods, but they never believed it. Just a tall tale rumored at school. There was no way Henry, the Ghost of Highwater, really existed.

As you can see, each piece of dialogue in this US-English piece begins with an opening quotation marks (curving in toward the text), the dialogue itself, some type of end punctuation (a comma if the attributive follows the quote, as shown in David’s reply), and the closing quotation marks (again curving into the text). If your quotation marks are straight, or smart quotation marks, you’ll need to change them to curly, per Chicago.

It does get a little tricky if there’s a quote within a quote (single quotation mark within the double quotation marks) or if the manuscript is written in British English (which is the opposite; single quotation marks surround the quote but double quotation marks are used within). Note that most of this editor’s British English writers request American-style punctuation.

If all this makes your head spin, fear not; there are many qualified editors at FirstEditing.com standing by to help you get one step closer to publication while properly punctuating fictional character dialogue and avoiding plagiarism in your nonfiction work. Whatever you do, keep writing!

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