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MLA Format: Short Quotes

MLA Format: Short Quotes

Author: Sydney Bauer

This lesson goes over how to format short quotes in MLA style.

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MLA considers "short quotes" to be any direct quotes that are less than four typed lines in your paper. All direct quotes must be accompanied by an in-text citation, as well as a signal phrase. 

A signal phrase will let the reader know that you are about to use a quotation, someone else's ideas or words. Signal phrases help blend or embed a quote within your own writing. You never want to simply drop a quote into your writing because the reader will be left wondering what it means. You want to signal that you are about to use a quote, provide the quote, and end with an in-text citation. Following the blended quote, you should explain how the quote supports your claims or connects to your ideas. 

Let's look at an example: 

  • Parker agrees that “the same claims are often made for almost any group of writers” (11).
    • In this example, the author's name is mentioned in the signal phrase "Parker agrees that..." which means the author's name will not be mentioned in the in-text citation at the end of the quoted material. 
    • Following this quote, the student would need to connect or explain the quote: Why is it important that the author agrees on this particular point? How does this support the claims the student is making?
      • Example explanation to follow this direct quote: It seems that it is not enough to say that certain writers belonging to a group will use the same patterns of symbols. To distinguish one type of writing from another, there needs to be a set of characteristics that are unique to that type of writing alone.

Notice how the signal phrase not only tells the reader that the writer is expressing someone else's ideas, but it also leads the reader into the quote just like a transition statement between paragraphs. 

Think of short quotes as a picture frame. The author of the source provides the photo: the quote. As the writer, you need to frame the quote using the signal phrase and explanation. 

Let's look at some example signal phrases using the name of the author from the example:

  • As Parker noted in his work Genre Studies: Where to Draw the Lines, ".....
  • In the words of Parker, "......
  • Parker writes ".......
  • According to Parker, "......
  • In his article "Generic Monsters," Parker argues ".......

Some useful verbs for signal phrases  are...
acknowledges / adds / admits / agrees / argues / asserts / believes / claims / comments / compares / confirms / contends / declares / denies / disputes / emphasizes / endorses / grants / illustrates / implies / insists / notes / observes / points out / reasons / refutes / rejects / reports / responds / suggests / thinks / writes 

It is important to note that all of these signal verbs are in the present tense. MLA uses the present tense to discuss literature. In order to correctly format a short quote for an MLA paper you will need to use the present tense both in the signal phrase and in the explanation of the quote.

Amis describes the world of Kafka’s works as "dream-like, calling to mind the faint details of intangible moments" (23). 

Notice that the verb "describe" is in present tense ("describes"), and that the sentence would be incomplete without the quote. They work together. 


How do you know when your quote is adequately embedded within your paper? 
To check if you've embedded a quote, you need to first remove the words that are inside the quotation marks (as well as the in-text citation). 
Next, read the remaining information as you would a regular sentence. If the remaining material makes sense (both logically and grammatically) then your quote was not blended. If the remaining material makes no sense at all, then your quote was embedded in your paper. When the ideas surrounding a quote depend on the quote to make sense, the quote is blended. 

MLA Format: Short Quotes