All good things must end—even this exciting block quotation series, which I’m going to close by discussing copyright concerns, reader expectations, and alternative options to block quotations. (What’s that? Block quotations aren’t exciting? How about relatively riveting? Mildly motivating? Slightly stirring?)
Here is a brief summary for those who missed the first two parts of the series:
Block Quotations, Part 1: How to Introduce a Block Quotation: The length of your block quotations depends on your style guide. (See Part 1 for examples based on Chicago, APA, and MLA recommendations.) Block quotations are commonly introduced by a complete sentence ending with a colon, but they can also be introduced by a complete sentence ending with a period. In certain situations, they can even be introduced by an incomplete sentence.
Block Quotations, Part 2: How to Format a Block Quotation: Block quotations are indented from the left side of the surrounding text. They shouldn’t be enclosed in quotation marks; however, quotations within block quotations should be placed in quotation marks. Parenthetical and numerical citations appear after the closing punctuation. The use of first-line indentations in multi-paragraph block quotations depends on your style guide. (See Part 2 for examples based on Chicago, APA, and MLA recommendations.)
Copyright Concerns about Block Quotations
I am not a lawyer or a permissions editor. The information below should not be interpreted as legal advice. Always consult legal counsel if you have a question about copyright issues.
Unlicensed quotations of copyrighted material of any length can potentially violate fair use and copyright laws even with proper citation. You can learn more about fair use and other copyright laws by visiting the United States Copyright Office’s website at copyright.gov.
Those working on commercial, for-profit, or entertainment endeavors need to be particularly cautious because fair use traditionally favors academic, nonprofit, and journalistic endeavors; although, no category enjoys absolute fair use protection, not even academic writing. When in doubt, always obtain legal permission from the copyright holder before quoting copyrighted material; if that is not possible, contact a lawyer to see if the quotation falls under fair use.
Many universities publish fair use guidelines to help students navigate fair use and copyright issues. However, if you are a student or academic researcher with a specific copyright concern, contact your professor, advisor, or institutional writing center for direction.
Reader Expectations about Block Quotations
Here’s a dirty little secret: your readers may not always read every word you write. (Gasp!) And, they may be especially weary of long, unbroken blocks of text—particularly if those long, unbroken blocks of text are quotations because many people assume that block quotations are just filler text. Of course, anyone who has ever had to “beef up” a term paper at the last minute knows that sometimes block quotations really are just filler, unfortunately; but that is not their only use even within the word-count obsessed halls of academia. Carefully chosen block quotations can add valuable support, variety, and authenticity to your document.
Encourage your readers to read all (or at least more) of your document by
- keeping block quotations as short and as relevant as possible;
- ensuring that each block quotation is clearly attributed to its source; and
- limiting block quotation usage because overusing quotations of any length can weaken your credibility.
Alternative Options to Block Quotations
Here are three options to consider if you’re struggling to incorporate a long quotation in your document:
- If the text is too long to be placed in a block quotation, try to negotiate a legal permission agreement with the copyright holder to reproduce it as an appendix or supplement to your document.
- If the copyright holder has published the text on a legitimate public website, direct readers to that online source instead of using a block quotation.
- Look for another source to quote. Obviously, that’s not always a workable solution; but in this information age, very few writers have a monopoly on their subject matter. Dig a little deeper to see what else you can find! (Of course, you still have to obtain copyright permission or ensure fair use before quoting the new source.)
Do you like to live dangerously? If so, be sure to stop by for my next post, which will delve into a truly treacherous topic: when to ignore your style guide!