How to Format Dialogue: Examples and Writing Tips

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dialogue in an essay
Table of Contents
  1. How to Format Dialogue: Examples and Writing Tips
  2. What Is a Dialogue and Its Types?
  3. How to Format Dialogue in an Essay
  4. Quotation Marks and Capitalization
  5. Punctuation
  6. Reporting Verbs and Dialogue Tags
  7. How to Quote a Dialogue in an Essay Correctly
  8. MLA
  9. APA
  10. Effective Tips on Dialog Writing
  11. Final Thoughts

Sometimes adding a dialogue to an essay is the right way to improve the paper and receive a higher grade. Dialogue is a great device to describe the situation, characters, or emotions. Yet often, wrong formatting may adversely impact your piece of writing. This is a tricky aspect of a dialogue writing process, as it has so many nuances. This guide will help you learn how to format dialogue correctly and give a comprehensive list of writing, punctuation, and capitalization tips as well as perfect examples.

What Is a Dialogue and Its Types?

Dialogue is a written or spoken conversation between two or more people. It is widely incorporated in different written works, movies, and even computer games.

Writing dialogue in an essay will surely brighten up the story and captivate the reader. However, in terms of academic writing, it can be used in one essay type only; namely, the narrative essay. If you decide to add it to your essay, keep it realistic, clear, and to the point as well as format dialogue appropriately. If you are looking for a simple shortcut, you can pay to 'write my essay'. In case you want to find out useful tips, just keep on reading. 

There are two types of dialogues you should keep in mind:

  • Inner dialogues are used to convey what characters say to themselves or think.
  • Outer dialogues are even more wide-spread and happen between several characters in the story.

Quite often students receive assignments to analyze or reflect on stories or books. They might add quotations from these sources as evidence. At this point, it is important to understand the difference between a direct and indirect quote. Both use information from the original source, but the difference is in presentation.

  • A direct quote, also referred to as direct quotation, is the exact words taken from the original without any alteration in content of punctuation. If you quote a dialogue from the outside sources, make sure you do not change anything in it. Insert it in your paper as it is. Do not forget to add double quotation marks, mention the source and the author, as well as specify the exact page number. Direct Quote in Dialogue
  • An indirect quote, indirect quotation, or paraphrase conveys the meaning of the idea presented in the original source. However, you should present this idea using your own words. Indirect quotations do not require the use of quotation marks. However, you should mention the author and the original source. Formatting styles have different requirements to dialogue punctuation. So, check the guidelines to format dialogue and present your indirect quotes correctly. Indirect Quote in Dialogue

How to Format Dialogue in an Essay

Writing dialogue that is clear and informative requires the knowledge of a set of formatting rules. You should understand how to punctuate dialogue correctly to convey the meaning properly. Check the rules to learn how to write dialogue correctly to make your piece of writing flawless.

Quotation Marks and Capitalization

  • Put direct speech in double quotation marks. There should be both closing and opening quotation marks. Double Quotation Marks in Direct Speech
  • Each character’s words start with a new paragraph or line of dialogue. Each line should be indented. There can be multiple paragraphs. Indented Dialogue Lines
  • Use single quotation marks if you want to add direct speech within double quotation marks. Single Quotation Marks in Direct Speech
  • Capitalize the first word of a direct speech regardless of its position. Capitlization in Direct Speech
  • Do not capitalize the continuation of the quote in the same sentence. No Capitlization in Direct Speech

Punctuation 

  • Use a comma after the dialogue tags that precedes direct speech.
  • If the quoted speech precedes the dialogue tag, comma goes inside the quotation marks. Comma in Quoted Speech
  • Use colon to introduce direct speech that expresses a finished idea or sentence.
  • If there is a complete phrase with its original punctuation, add it inside the quotation marks. Whether it’s a period, quotation mark, question mark, or exclamation mark, it all goes inside a quote. Punctuation in Quoted Speech
  • Do not add a comma after the direct quote that precedes a dialogue tag if the direct speech ends with its specific punctuation (i.e. full stop, exclamation or question marks, etc.).
  • In case the quoted speech is too long, divide it into multiple paragraphs. Use quotation marks appropriately. Opening quotation marks should be placed at the beginning of the speech. Closing quotation marks go at the very end of the direct speech. Avoid adding them after every paragraph.
  • If you put a dialogue tag between two character’s phrases in one sentence, separate it with commas. Use of Comma in Dialogue Tag
  • Do not add any punctuation marks after the closing quotation marks if the direct speech ends with ellipsis. Ellipses (three dots) are used when you omit some information from the quote.
  • Em dashes that indicate abrupt ending of a dialogue go inside the quotation marks. Do not mix up em dashes and hyphens.
  • Avoid using either double or single quotes when you are introducing an indirect quote. It will be a mistake.

Reporting Verbs and Dialogue Tags

Dialogue tags or speech tags are short phrases that refer to the direct quote. They provide additional information on what the character is speaking about, help explain the emotion, and understand the context better. They can be placed either before, in the middle, or after the direct quotation. These short phrases are also part of indirect speech.

When using indirect quotes, students tend to overuse word say and tell to present every. However, there exist multiple words that could help describe the dialogue better. Check the list of useful verbs to use in your dialogue tangs and indirect quotes.

Reporting Verbs Examples

How to Quote a Dialogue in an Essay Correctly

Students are always required to cite the sources they have used in paper. These can either be long or short direct quotes, dialogues, or paraphrase. Dialogue punctuation depends on the formatting style. The most common are MLA and APA. Let's have a look at the rules to punctuate dialogue and direct quotes correctly.

MLA

When quoting a dialogue in MLA format, you should pay attention to the following requirements.

  • When adding a direct quote, always mention the author and page number it is taken from.
  • If you add words to a quotation, add brackets around them to show they are not part of the original text. 
  • In short quotations, commas are used to separate speech tags. Use of Commas in Short Quotations
  • If the quotation is too long or contains irrelevant information for you add ellipsis to indicate some information was omitted.
  • In long quotations, start every paragraph with quotation marks. Use of Quatation Marks in Long Quotes
  • When adding indirect quotes, do not add either double or single quotation marks.

APA

Mind the following dialogue rules when formatting quotations in APA format.

  • If a character’s quote is short, put both the quote and the dialogue tags in the same line.
  • When adding a quote that is longer than 40 words, first, introduce the source and the author. Put a colon and add a quote as a new paragraph. The whole quote should be indented, and no quotation marks are needed. Mention the page quote is taken from in brackets just at the end of the quotation.
  • If a character’s words span more than one paragraph, put quotation marks at the beginning of paragraphs as well as at the end of the quote.
  • Indirect quote in APA does not require the use of quotation marks. The dialogue tags initiate the character’s part.

Effective Tips on Dialog Writing

  1. Use quotation marks at the beginning and end of each quotation.
  2. Every quote starts from a new line of dialogue.
  3. Separate direct speech from dialogue tags using corresponding punctuation marks.
  4. Use different placing of dialogue tags (before, in the middle, after a quote) to avoid repetitive structures.
  5. Original direct speech punctuation goes within quotation marks.
  6. Use different verbs in a dialogue tag.
  7. Formatting dialogue in APA and MLA is different.
  8. Differentiate between direct and indirect quotes.
  9. Don’t add quotation marks if you paraphrase.
  10. Use single quotation marks to add one direct quote within another.

Final Thoughts

Writing dialogue is a time consuming process. It has numerous tricky rules. Now that you know all the peculiarities of dialogue writing, such as dialogue tags, em dashes, quotation marks, it will not be a challenge for you to write dialogue. However, if you are not sure you can do it the right way, you may try writing assistance. Professional writers will help you save time and receive high grades.