How to block quote in your thesis

A quote is when you copy and paste, word-for-word, a passage of text written or spoken by someone else. A block quote is a longer quote of roughly 30 words or more, the format and length of which is determined by your citation style.

Largely dependent on your field of research or your thesis topic, you may need to use the block quotation format to correctly share text from your sources.

What is a block quote?

A block quote is a longer, freestanding quote that does not require the use of quotation marks, as the formatting indicates a piece of directly quoted text.

Each citation style has different rules for the length of text that requires formatting as a block quote rather than a standard in-text quotation, starting as low as 30 words.

Example of a block quote

Though Emily Bronte lived a sheltered life with no evidence of her having experienced any form of romantic relationship before her early death, she wrote of love with remarkable clarity and understanding. Quotes from the characters of Catherine and Heathcliff are particularly strong examples of this, as in the below passage of text from an impassioned speech by Heathcliff:

Catherine Earnshaw, may you not rest as long as I am living; you said I killed you – haunt me, then! The murdered DO haunt their murderers, I believe. I know that ghosts HAVE wandered on earth. Be with me always – take any form – drive me mad! only DO not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you! Oh, God! it is unutterable! I CANNOT live without my life! I CANNOT live without my soul!

He dashed his head against the knotted trunk; and, lifting up his eyes, howled, not like a man, but like a savage beast being goaded to death with knives and spears. (Bronte, 1847, p. 268)

When to use a block quote

It is important to remember that quotes should be used as sparingly as possible, as your own voice should be dominant in your thesis. This rule is perhaps even more important to apply when considering using block quotes, as longer passages of text are most often better paraphrased.

However, there are exceptions.

Subject of study

How frequently you use block quotes will depend on your area of study. For example, block quotes are rarely used in styles typically applied in scientific research, such as Vancouver and IEEE. On the other hand, styles such as MLA and Turabian, which are designed for humanities subjects, will see more frequent use of block quotations.

MLA is almost a case of its own. As it is mainly used for literature and language studies, block quotations are frequently found in research applying this style, where the author needs to conduct in-depth textual analysis.

Frequency of block quotesFields of study
Very rarely, if at allExact, technical, sciences, mathematics
Occasionally, as appropriateMarketing and social media, economics, IT, geography and environment, health, art and culture, legal and government, behavioral science and society, education and pedagogy
Frequently, for textual analysisLanguage and communication, literature studies, biographical case studies

No matter what your field or subject of study, you should always carefully consider whether the text must be quoted word-for-word or if it is better to use the opportunity to apply your paraphrasing skills.

If you do want to use a longer quote, you need to assess whether it meets the length required by your referencing style to apply the block quotation format. For example, in APA, once a quote is 40 words or more, you must format it as a block quotation.

Should you use a block quote? Consider the following…

  • Is it crucial to use this text as a quote, rather than paraphrase?
  • Is the text long enough to be a block quote or should it be a standard in-text quotation?
  • Does the use of longer quotes fit with your subject of study?

You should use a block quote only if you answer yes to all three of these questions.

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Block quoting according to your citation style

The citation style required for your dissertation will dictate how you use block quotes. This is based on the word count or number of lines in the quote to be used.

Once you reach the minimum word count or number of lines for your citation style, the quote must be formatted in a block.

Citation styleWhen to block quote
APAQuotes longer than 40 words
HarvardQuotes longer than 30 words
ChicagoQuotes longer than 100 words
VancouverQuotes longer than 40 words
MLAQuotes of prose longer than four lines
Quotes of poetry/verse longer than three lines
OSCOLAQuotes longer than three lines
IEEEQuotes longer than three lines
TurabianQuotes longer than five lines
AMAQuotes longer than four lines
ACSQuotes longer than 50 words
AAAQuotes longer than four lines
APSAQuotes longer than 100 words

As you can see, some citation styles specify a number of words, while others indicate a minimum number of lines before a block quotation format must be used.

At a time when the size of your computer screen, font or settings in your word processor can affect how many lines a piece of text covers, we don’t find the number of lines to be a very accurate guide!

Therefore, we’ve prepared some handy guidelines to help make sure your quotes are formatted correctly.

Naturally, the length of the words affects how many can fit per line, so this is a rough guide only.

Number of linesWord count
Two lines25–40 words
Three lines35–50 words
Four lines45–60 words
Five lines60–90 words

How to block quote

Incorporating block quotes

Unlike shorter in-text quotes, which can be incorporated into the text in a variety of ways, block quotes are introduced with a lead-in sentence and a colon (unless the punctuation of your block quote dictates otherwise).

Examples of introducing block quotes

Introduce the idea and lead into the quote with a colon.

In his early career, civil rights activist Al Sharpton played a crucial role in bringing awareness of the vast differences between New York City boroughs in the 1980s to the public eye. At that time, many viewed Manhattan as dangerous without knowing that the situation in other boroughs was infinitely worse, but that all changed after one appearance on late-night television:

The whole thing finally fell into place in May of that year when I went on Tom Snyder’s show on NBC. He was like the Jimmy Fallon or Trevor Noah of that era. His show was on at 1 a.m., after Johnny Carson. Not only did Mr. Brown come on with me, but Muhammad Ali did, too. It was the three of us. It changed everything. It made the general public aware that people were dying in Brooklyn, in Harlem, in the Bronx. James Brown and Ali — because of them, I basically became a made guy. (Guadagnino & La Force, 2018, para. 6)

Introduce the author’s published work and use the quote to finish the sentence.

The opioid addiction crisis in the United States has been labelled “the deadliest drug epidemic in American history” (The Editorial Board, 2018, para. 3), having grown to result in approximately 140,000 deaths per year, yet receives little attention from lawmakers when it comes to preventing further addiction among citizens. The Editorial Board of the New York Times argued that:

To stem the number of new opioid users, lawmakers and regulators need to stop pharmaceutical companies from marketing drugs like OxyContin and establish stronger guidelines about how and when doctors can prescribe them. These drugs are often the last resort for people with cancer and other terminal conditions who experience excruciating pain. But they pose a great risk when used to treat the kinds of pain for which there are numerous non-addictive therapies available. (The Editorial Board, 2018, para. 16)

Formatting block quotes

When it comes to formatting block quotes, there are four things to consider:

  • Indentation
  • Line spacing
  • Quotation marks
  • Citation

Most reference styles favour the use of a 0.5 inch indentation, though we encourage you to check the guidelines for your specific style. Some also require indentation on the right side, double spacing or smaller font.

If you quote more than one paragraph, indent the first line of the following paragraphs an additional ¼ inch.

Example of quoting more than one paragraph

Though the Harry Potter series explores serious themes such as prejudice, evil and having the courage to do ‘the right thing,’ author J.K. Rowling uses a light-hearted tone. One example of this is how Rowling almost teases her characters in her descriptions of them and their activities. She immediately indicates to the reader that this will be the style of the story with the opening paragraphs in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone:

Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much. They were the last people you’d expect to be involved in anything strange or mysterious, because they just didn’t hold with such nonsense.

Mr. Dursley was the director of a firm called Grunnings, which made drills. He was a big, beefy man with hardly any neck, although he did have a very large mustache. Mrs. Dursley was thin and blonde and had nearly twice the usual amount of neck, which came in very useful as she spent so much of her time craning over garden fences, spying on the neighbors. The Dursleys had a small son called Dudley and in their opinion there was no finer boy anywhere. (Rowling 1)

Ensure there is a space between the top and bottom of the quote, and the surrounding text. No quotation marks are required, however, you must include a citation!

Both MLA and APA also dictate that a block quote should be double-spaced.

Indenting block quotes

How to block quote in Word
1Highlight the quote to be indented
2Find the “Paragraph” tab in the “Home” menu
3Click the small arrow in the corner of the “Paragraph” tab to open the pop-up menu
4Under “Indentation” choose 0.5 in the “Before text” box
5Click “OK” to apply this format
How to block quote in Google Docs
1Highlight the quote to be indented
2Find the ruler immediately above the document, below the menu options
3Move the small blue arrow across to the right until the popup text reads “0.50.” Your paragraph should move automatically

How to cite block quotes

Reference styleHow to citeExample
APAAuthor’s last name, date and page/paragraph number(s) in parentheses after the period. If you include the author’s name in the sentence introducing the block quote, you can omit it from the citation and use only the date and page/paragraph number. Double space the block quote.APA. (Rowling, 1998, p. 1)
HarvardAuthor’s last name, date and page number in parentheses inside the period. The quoted text can be a smaller font size than the rest of the document.Harvard (Rowling 1998, p. 1).
ChicagoIn Chicago A, indicate the citation with a superscript number, after the period, that corresponds to the complete source information in the footnote/endnote.

In Chicago B, place the author, date and page number in parentheses after the period.

Chicago A.1

Chicago B. (Rowling, 1998, 1)

VancouverIndicate the citation with a number, in parentheses and before the period, which corresponds to the complete source information in the literature list.Vancouver (1).
MLAAuthor’s last name and page/paragraph number(s) in parentheses after the period. Maintain double spacing in the block quote, as throughout the rest of the document.MLA. (Rowling 1)
OSCOLAIndicate the citation with a superscript number, after the period, that corresponds to the full source information in the footnote.OSCOLA.1
IEEEAs IEEE follows a different structure depending on the type of source, you should consult the guide to determine exactly how to format your citation.IEEE book reference (1).
TurabianIndicate the citation with a superscript number, after the period, that corresponds to the complete source information in the footnote/endnote.Turabian.1
AMAIndicate the citation with a superscript number, after the period, that corresponds to the complete source information in the literature list. The page number should also be included in parentheses beside the number.AMA.1(1)
ACSIndicate the citation with a superscript number, after the period, that corresponds to the complete source information in the literature list.ACS.1
AAAAuthor’s name, date and page number in parentheses after the period.AAA. (Rowling 1998, 1)
APSAAuthor’s name, date and page number in parentheses after the period.APSA. (Rowling 1998, 1)

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Courtney Gahan

Courtney has a Bachelor in Communication and a Master in Editing and Publishing. She has worked as a freelance writer and editor since 2013, and joined the Scribbr team as an editor in June 2017. She loves helping students and academics all over the world improve their writing (and learning about their research while doing so!).

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