Quotation marks (“”)

Quotation marks (also known as speech marks, quotes or inverted commas) are used to set off direct speech and quotations.

In academic writing, you need to use quotation marks when you quote a source. This includes quotes from published works and primary data such as interviews. The exception is when you use a block quote, which should be set off and indented without quotation marks.

Whenever you quote someone else’s words, it is essential to introduce the quotation and integrate it into your own text – don’t rely on quotations to make your points for you.

Single vs double quotation marks

There are two types of quotation marks: ‘single’ and “double”. Which one to choose generally depends on whether you are using American or British English. The US convention is to use double quotation marks, while the UK convention is to use single quotation marks.

US EnglishUK English
  • She said that this model is “the best there is.”
  • She said that this model is ‘the best there is’.

Double quotation marks can also be acceptable in UK English, provided you are consistent throughout the text. APA style requires double quotations.

Quotes within quotes

When your quotations are nested (i.e. a quote appears inside another quote), you should use the opposite style of quotation marks for the nested quotation.

US EnglishUK English
  • She said, “This model has been called ‘the best there is.’”
  • She said, ‘This model has been called “the best there is”’.

Punctuation within quotations

US and UK English also differ on where to place punctuation within quotation marks.

In US English, commas and periods are placed within the quotation marks. Other punctuation marks should be placed outside (unless they are part of the original quotation).

In UK English, all punctuation marks are placed outside the quotation marks, except when they are part of the original quotation.

US EnglishUK English
  • “The best there is,” she said.
  • ‘The best there is’, she said.
  • Did she say, “the best there is”?
  • She asked, ‘Is that the best there is?’

Note that when you include a parenthetical citation after a quote, the punctuation mark should always come after the citation (except with block quotes).

  • Many researchers argue that this model is “the best there is” (Lopez, 2015).

Integrating quotations

In academic writing, it’s important to integrate quotations into your own writing – avoid placing them in sentences of their own.

  • Jeffrey commented on the problem. “Our mayor abuses municipal funds!”

There are many ways to integrate quotations into your text.

Integrated with a colon

You can use a colon to introduce a quotation. Note that a colon should only be used after an independent clause (a piece of text that could stand as a full sentence on its own).

Jeffrey commented on the problem: “Our mayor abuses municipal funds!”

Integrated fluidly

Partial quotations can be integrated directly into the sentence without any extra punctuation.

Jeffrey was outraged that the mayor “abuses municipal funds.”

Integrated as dialogue

Quotations can be introduced with dialogue verbs like to sayto argue and to comment. The verb should be followed by a comma, and the quotation should begin with a capital letter.

Commenting on the problem, Jeffrey said, “Our mayor abuses municipal funds!”

Integrated with introduction

Another option is to use an introductory phrase followed by a comma.

According to Jeffrey, “Our mayor abuses municipal funds!”

To learn more about using quotations, read the full guide on how to quote sources.

Block quotes

A block quote is a long quote of around 30 words or more. Block quotes should not be enclosed in quotation marks – instead, set them off from the main text as a separate indented paragraph.

Example block quote

The reader quickly becomes familiar with Nick Carraway’s relationship with Jay Gatsby, as the very first mention of the character illustrates both his admiration and disdain:

Only Gatsby, the man who gives his name to this book, was exempt from my reaction—Gatsby who represented everything for which I have an unaffected scorn. If personality is an unbroken series of successful gestures, then there was something gorgeous about him, some heightened sensitivity to the promises of life, as if he were related to one of those intricate machines that register earthquakes ten thousand miles away. (Fitzgerald, 1925, p. 4)

Note that the period at the end of a block quote is placed before the citation.

Block quotes are used most often in humanities disciplines, where detailed textual analysis requires quoting at length. In other types of academic writing, use block quotes sparingly, and avoid relying on them to define concepts or explain your arguments.

Like other quotations, block quotes should always be integrated into your text with an introduction that makes it clear why the quote has been included. To learn more, read the full guide on how to block quote.

Scare quotes

“Scare quotes” are quotation marks used around words that are not a direct quotation from a specific source. Scare quotes are often used to signal that a term is being used in an unusual or ironic way, that it is borrowed from someone else, or that the writer is skeptical towards the term.

  • Many politicians have blamed recent electoral trends on the rise of “fake news.”

While scare quotes have their uses in academic writing – for example, when referring to controversial or contested terms – they are best avoided wherever possible. Inappropriate use of scare quotes can create ambiguity in your writing.

  • The two organizations organized the fundraiser in support of “underprivileged children.”
  • Scientists argue that “global warming” is accelerating due to greenhouse gas emissions.
  • The “Brexit” negotiations are still ongoing.

In these examples, the words within scare quotes are widely accepted terms with clear meanings that can’t be attributed to a specific person or source. Putting them in scare quotes implies that the writer is expressing skepticism towards the concepts in question.

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Shona McCombes

Shona has an MLitt in English Literature and an MA in Gender Studies, so she's an expert at writing a great master's thesis. She has also been an editor and teacher, working with students at all different levels to improve their academic writing.

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