Block quotations, also called block quotes, are long quotations that are indented from the surrounding text. In the first part of this three-part series, I’ll explain how to introduce block quotations in your content. But first, let’s take a look at the purpose of block quotations and how long they should be.
The Purpose of Block Quotations
Although block quotations were originally a typesetting mechanism,1 today they serve three purposes: (1) improve readability by visually separating lengthy quotations from the surrounding text, (2) help to ensure that the quoted material is not mistaken for original content, and (3) display quoted material that may need special formatting such as letters reproduced in their entirety or short excerpts of poetry or song lyrics.
Block Quotation Lengths
Generally, long quotations should be formatted as block quotations and short quotations should be formatted as run-in quotations. However, our primary style guides are not on the same page when it comes to defining “long” and “short.”
The Chicago Manual of Style (Chicago style) recommends using block quotations for all quoted material over ninety-nine words, multi-paragraph quotations (even if less than a hundred words), and content that needs special formatting.2 Readers who follow Chicago’s student version, commonly called Turabian, should see the Style Guide Alert below.
The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (APA style) suggests using block quotations for all quoted material exceeding thirty-nine words.3
The MLA Handbook advises block quotations for quoted prose that runs over four lines or poetry that runs more than three lines.4 Unfortunately, line length can vary dramatically when viewed on different mobile devices, so this recommendation isn’t particularly helpful outside of printed academic projects.
Style Guide Alert
Chicago’s student version, A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations by Kate L. Turabian, differs from the original manual on the length of block quotations.
Turabian recommends using block quotations for any prose quotation of five lines or more and any poetry quotation of two lines or more. Like the original manual, Turabian says that shorter quotations can be placed in block quotations if special emphasis is needed.5
With apologies to longtime readers who have read this many times before, if you don’t have an official style guide already and are wondering which one to follow, I always recommend Chicago style first because it is a comprehensive and versatile option for general business writing as well as most fiction and nonfiction publishing.
How to Introduce Block Quotations
Block quotations are usually introduced with a complete sentence ending with a colon.6
(All of the examples below use Latin filler text to maintain emphasis on formatting.)
The upcoming “Block Quotations, Part 2: How to Format Block Quotations” will cover structural issues such as indentation sizes, quotation mark usage, multi-paragraph indentation, and citation placement. And “Block Quotations, Part 3: Block Quotation Issues and Concerns” will discuss special considerations when using block quotations such as copyright issues, reader expectations, and alternative options.
If you just can’t get enough of quotations (because, seriously, who can get enough of quotations?), check out my last post, “How to Introduce Run-in Quotations.”
1. “Block Quotation,” Wikipedia, last modified October 24, 2018.
2. The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017), 13.10.
3. Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, 6th ed. (Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2012), 92.
4. MLA Handbook, 8th ed. (New York: Modern Language Association of America, 2016), 1.3.2–3.
5. Kate L. Turabian, A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations, 9th ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2018), 25.2, 25.2.2, 220.127.116.11.
6. MLA Handbook, 1.3.2.
7. The Chicago Manual of Style, 13.17.
8. The Chicago Manual of Style,13.20.
9. The Chicago Manual of Style, 13.23.