Tips on How to Write Dialogue in an Essay with Ease


dialogue in an essay

Sometimes adding a dialogue in an essay is just the right move to improve readers’ impression or get a higher grade on an assignment. Dialogue is a great device to show a character's emotions or convey the type of relationships between characters. Yet often, not knowing how to format a dialogue may stand on the way. This guide covers formatting and punctuation rules to help you make dialogue an accessible tool in your inventory.

How to Define a Dialogue and Its Types?

You should understand the notion of a dialogue and its types to use it in an essay correctly. Dialogue as a literary technique is used to show a conversation between people. It is widely incorporated in different subject areas like written works, including essays, and is common in movies or even computer games. There are two dialogue types you should keep in mind:

  • Inner dialogues are used to convey what characters think or say to themselves.  Check out this short example:

“Maybe, moving to Puerto Rico was a reckless decision. I am all alone, with no decent job,” Toby thought to himself. 

  • Outer dialogues are even more wide-spread and happen between several characters in the story. For instance:

Michael said quietly, “Lucile, if you spent less time drinking and making others miserable, you would feel much better.”

          “Nobody asked you, Michael. Mind your own business,” she replied.

Another essential point is the difference between a direct and indirect quote. Keep in mind that the first one requires using quotation marks and should not be confused with a quote from an outside source.

  • A direct quote reports the words of a speaker without any alteration, for example:<

“Stay home and help your child!” Dwight exclaimed.

  • An indirect quote transfers the meaning without reporting the exact words of a speaker.

Angela told him that she is in a daring situation and could use the help of a friend.

Difference between Dialogue and Quotes

Dialogue is a conversation between at least two people. But there might also be an inner dialogue of a person, which is rather a monologue. A dialogue is mainly used in books or movies and also in narrative essays for the unravelling of the plot. 

Quotes are used to support arguments or evidence. It also names the original source and provides first-hand information from it. Quotes are used in different types of written works.

Reporting Verbs

When using indirect quotes, students tend to overuse word say and tell to present every dialogue they use. Check the list of reporting words to use instead.

The Purpose of a Dialogue in an Essay and When to Use It

Whereas a dialogue is an important element of movies, plays and novels, as a rule, it can appear in one essay type only, namely the narrative essay. Including dialogues in an essay will surely brighten up a narration. Revealing characters’ feelings, thoughts and manner of talking will enrich the story and involve the reader into the narrative. Students should keep in mind that some college assignments may require a creative approach, including dialogue simulations, but they are quite rare. All in all, if you choose to incorporate a dialogue into an essay, keep it realistic, clear, and to the point. Check out this example of a dialogue in a narrative essay:

Jack said, holding a ticket in his hand, “Megan, are you leaving today?” 

“Not me, we are leaving today!” exclaimed Megan with a cunning smile.

Tips on How to Add a Dialogue in an Essay

  • Every speaker gets an new line
  • Each paragraph should be indented
  • Avoid long dialogue paragraphs
  • Dialogue should be clear and specific. Avoid wordiness
  • Each paragraph should be important<
  • Be dynamic
  • Each character should be unique and use specific vocabulary
  • Each character’s style should be consistent
  • Proofread

How to Format a Dialogue in an Essay

Creating a clear dialogue requires the knowledge of a set of formatting rules. The purpose of those rules is to tell the reader where the dialogue starts and where it ends. 

The Use of Quotation Marks 

  1. Put your characters’ words in quotation marks

    “Don’t be silly, we’re not gonna drive there in these weather conditions”

  2. Use separate paragraphs for words of different characters in a dialogue in an essay

    “It’s not even snowing,” urged Mark.

    “Don’t start this subject again,” demanded Glen, irritated.

  3. To make a quotation within a quotation, use single quotation marks within double marks.

    “But Steve said, ‘We could go today,’” continued Mark.

Punctuation and Capitalization 

  1. Use a comma between the dialogue and the dialogue tag in a sentence.

    “Stop lying on the couch and go do the laundry,” yelled Anebelle

  2. If you use a complete phrase, put the terminal point, whether it’s a period, quotation mark, or exclamation mark, inside quotations.

    Robin urged, “Let’s go to the mall today!”

  3. If you put a dialogue tag between two character’s phrases in one sentence, separate it with commas.

    “Owning a cat,” mused Alf, “is going to be a lot of fun.”

  4. Capitalize the first word of a direct quote sentence, regardless of its position.

    Patty squicked, “No! I’m not staying here any day longer!”

  5. Do not capitalize the continuation of the quote in the same sentence

    “We gathered here,” started Gregory, “to stand witness to an unfair trial.”

How to Quote a Dialogue in an Essay: MLA Format 

College students should always learn how to format a dialogue before submitting an essay. When quoting a dialogue in MLA format, you should pay attention to the following requirements:

  • In short quotations, commas are used to separate speech tags :

He said,

“Your job here is finished, leave now.”

  • In long quotations, start every paragraph with quotation marks:

Holding a glass of wine, she started her speech,

“When I first met Pam and Jim, I thought that they were siblings. It was quite a surprise that they were just best friends!

“And now, they are the cutest couple. I wish them all the best in their marriage!” 

  • Formatting indirect quotes by the MLA approach doesn’t require quotation marks:

Marie explained that she was late because her dog tried to eat a chilly pepper.

Quoting a Dialogue in APA Format 

How to quote a dialogue in an essay in APA format:

  • If a character’s quote is short, put both the quote and the dialogue tag in the same paragraph.

Richard contemplated, “Should I lose the moustache or keep it for a month or two longer?”

  • If a character’s words span more than one paragraph, put quotation marks at the beginnings of paragraphs as well as at the end of the quote.

“Some parents start to teach their children swimming when they’re still infants, I believe, to improve their development.

“Even 20 years ago, such techniques were not really popular, but we still grew up fine.”

  • Indirect quote in APA does not require the use of quotation marks. The dialogue tag initiates the character’s part.

There was a huge quarrel in the big hall, but Jon put an end to it when he said that everyone must march south to still be alive in two days.

Professional Help

Not that you know all the peculiarities of writing essays with dialogues and the difference between dialogues and quotes, you have all the chances to write an effective essay. If you feel that dialogue writing is too challenging, ask a writing expert for assistance. It will help you save time and receive high grades.