How to Format Block Quotations

By Mark Nichol

A block quotation is a distinct body of type set off from the default text (also called the running text), usually distinguished by insertion of line spaces above and below and formatting of a narrower margin (and sometimes even type of a different point size or a distinct font).

When reproducing written text from another source, consider setting the quoted material off from the rest of the content in a block quotation if it

  • is more than a hundred words long.
  • consists of more than one paragraph.
  • is made up of a number of shorter passages (so that it would resemble an indented list without numbers or bullets).
  • constitutes a letter or other correspondence, complete with salutation, signature, and the like, or another type of templated form.
  • requires any special formatting.

However, determine whether it might be better to simply paraphrase a long quotation in one or more normal paragraphs with perhaps some partial quotations when phrases should be reproduced verbatim.

When the first line of each paragraph in the running text is indented, block quotations of a single paragraph, and the first of multiple paragraphs, are not indented, but subsequent ones should be. When paragraphs in running text are distinguished not by indentation but by line spaces, follow the same format in block quotations.

If the block quotation is inserted in a framing paragraph that continues after the quotation, do not indent the first line of the rest of the paragraph. If paragraphs are set off by line spaces, a new paragraph that immediately follows a block quotation should be separated from the quotation by two line spaces so that the new paragraph is not mistaken for a continuation of the paragraph in which the quotation is inserted.

When a block quotation is the continuation of an introductory sentence, use punctuation or capitalization (or a lack thereof) accordingly. In this case, the quotation is a continuation of the introduction, so no punctuation or capitalization is necessary:

“The writer described the apparition as

a tall, thin wraith of diaphanous constitution, as if made of smoke . . . .”

(Note also that a block quotation is not enclosed in quotation marks; it is assumed that such an excerpt is quoted material.)

If the first word of the quoted material had originally been capitalized (“A tall, thin wraith . . .”), silently correct it, as above; it’s not necessary to call attention to the change, as is sometimes done in specialized contexts (“[a] tall, thin wraith . . .”).

A lead-in line consisting of a complete clause, and the first word of the following quotation, should be treated otherwise:

“The writer described the apparition as follows:

It was a tall, thin wraith of diaphanous constitution, as if made of smoke . . . .”

The same rules hold for run-in quotations (those that are assimilated into the running text):

“The sage says that ‘a fool and his money are soon parted.’” (Though the adage, standing alone, would begin with an uppercase a, it is part of the framing sentence here and must be lowercased; alternatively, you could write, “The sage says, ‘A fool and his money are soon parted.’”)

If the writer wishes to amend or comment on a quotation, several strategies are available:

To clarify that a typographical error is in the original, insert sic (Latin for “thus,” or “so,” and meaning “as originally published”), italicized and in brackets, after the offense. Take care, however, not to employ this term as a textual smirk, and if the quotation is full of unconventional, outdated, or variant spelling, an explanatory note before the quotation is preferable to a quotation repeatedly interrupted by [sic].

When you don’t need the entire quotation to illustrate a point, you may delete irrelevant passages and indicate the elision with ellipsis points. However, it is not necessary to precede or follow a passage with ellipses to indicate that you are not reproducing the entire text from which the excerpt is derived; the reader will assume this.

If you must make comment or clarify a point, enclose the note in brackets, but be as concise as possible, or provide a longer explanatory note outside the quotation.

If you wish to emphasize one or more words or phrases, follow the quotation with the parenthesized note “Italics added” or “Emphasis mine,” or vice versa. But a quotation with extant italicization should be treated differently: Insert the comment in brackets immediately following your emphasis.

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5 Responses to “How to Format Block Quotations”

  • Jackie Paulson

    I really needed that refresher on quotes, I wanted to let you know that I read your emails each day and today really was important for me. Have you ever done Copyright?

  • Andrew Q.

    I thought it was necessary to place an ellipsis (and period) at the end of a quotation that closes with a partial sentence.

    Mark Nichol writes that “it is not necessary to precede or follow a passage with ellipses to indicate that you are not reproducing the entire text . . . .”

    Have my English professors been misleading me all these years? Or do you agree with this usage, and by “passage” mean material that contains all complete sentences?

  • Lawrence S. Miller

    Mark,

    I agree with Jackie. I, too, needed this refresher.

    I have a question though: is there a plugin or do you use a string of code to produce those enlarged quotation marks. I would sure like to use those on my blog.

    Thanks for all the good information you give us.

  • Peter

    I assume the “enlarged quotation marks” are done in the stylesheet, and Mark just types <blockquote>blah blah</blockquote> …

    testing

  • Mark Nichol

    Andrew:

    Your professors are being overly cautious, I suppose, or perhaps you misunderstood them. If you quote a sentence in which you have removed one or more words from the middle, it is necessary to mark the elision:

    “Hamlet’s first argument begins, ‘Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer . . . outrageous fortune.'”

    But you needn’t signal that you are leaving out words at the beginning or end of a quotation:

    “Next, Hamlet refers to ‘the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune'” (not “Next, Hamlet refers to ‘. . . the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune . . . .'”).

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