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Referencing poems in an essay

Quote for acknowledgement, illustration, proof, support, or your reader's convenience, but do not quote more than you need for your purpose. You should not scatter quotations at random through your paper in the hope that it will look better: introduce each quotation with a sentence or phrase showing its context and function, and follow each with some discussion. In general, the longer your quotation, the more you must say about it to show what function it has in your essay. That is why you should usually avoid ending a paragraph with a long quotation.

If your quotation is four lines or less. use quotation marks and include the quotation in your text. Remember, if you are paraphrasing rather than quoting words directly from the source, you must still acknowledge the source, but you should not use quotation marks.

When quoting a prose passage of more than four lines in your paper, start a new line and indent the quotation two tabs (approximately ten spaces) from the left margin, but do not indent it from the right margin. Double-space the quotation but do not add quotation marks unless they are not part of the quoted material.

Use quotation marks to set apart a quotation of three lines or less. If you quote more than one line (but fewer than three lines) of verse, use a slash (/) with a space before and after to mark the line endings. Generally, your citations for poetry should include line numbers instead of page numbers.

When quoting more than three lines of verse. indent your quotation two tabs (roughly equivalent to ten spaces). Duplicate the passage as it appears in the source: preserve the original line endings and spatial arrangement.

If a line runs beyond the right margin, drop the extra words down to the next line. To indicate that the words are a continuation, not a new line, indent them until they reach the right margin.

If you omit an entire line or more in the middle of a block quotation, mark the omission with a line of spaced periods that match the length of a whole line in the poem. Enclose the spaced periods in square brackets.

When you refer to a verse play or a long poem, cite it according to the divisions of the work. For example, Milton divided Paradise Lost into books and lines; therefore, the citation should include the book and line number. The MLA Handbook uses arabic numerals, separated by periods, (Paradise Lost 4.269-71) (Gibaldi 84) rather than the traditional style (Paradise Lost IV, 269-71). Find out which one your professor prefers.

For dramatic literature, if you are quoting one character's speech, you can follow either of the above forms, depending on whether the play is in prose or verse.

When you quote dialogue, however, set the quotation apart from your text and duplicate the text, including speech attributions and stage directions.

If you omit a character's speech or set of stage directions in the middle of a block quotation, mark the omission with a line of spaced periods. Enclose the spaced periods in square brackets.

When citing a classic verse play, omit the page references and instead give the conventional divisions--act, scene, and line numbers. The MLA Handbook uses arabic numerals, separated by periods, (Macbeth 2.4.30) (Gibaldi 84) rather than the traditional style (Macbeth II,iv,30). Find out which one your professor prefers.

Quote accurately. Whenever possible, reproduce the quotation exactly--including its spelling, capitalization, and punctuation. Sometimes, however, you will need to "edit" the quotation to fit the syntax of your sentence (e.g. for subject-verb agreement).

There are several ways to indicate the changes that you make to a quotation: Ellipsis [. ] If you omit part of a passage, mark the omission with an ellipsis, three spaced periods. The MLA Handbook gives very specific instructions on using ellipses in your quotations: To distinguish between your ellipses and the spaced periods that sometimes appear in works, place square brackets around the ellipsis points that you add. Leave a space before the second and third periods but no space before the first or after the third. (Gibaldi 86) You do not need to use an ellipsis if you quote only a word or phrase that is obviously fragmentary.

Often, it is better to incorporate several shorter quotations into your own sentences than to quote a large block of text with many omissions.

Square Brackets [ ] When you incorporate a quotation into a sentence, you should alter the quotation so that your sentence remains grammatically correct. Use square brackets around words or letters that are not in the text you are quoting from.

sic If the quotation you are using contains a grammatical error, you may reproduce that error, but you must write "[sic]" after it to indicate the error is not yours. You may also want to use "[sic]" after an offensive word or comment that you are quoting to indicate that you do not share the speaker's attitude.

Punctuation with Quotations
  • Use single quotation marks for quotations within quotations.
  • If the concluding punctuation of the quotation is not appropriate to the context in your own writing, omit or change it.
  • Place parenthetical references one space after the closing quotation mark. Never put your references inside quotation marks.
  • When the quotation is a part of your text, punctuation marks follow the parenthetical reference.
  • When the quotation is set apart from your text, the parenthetical reference follows the final punctuation.
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