How to Write Dialogue in an Essay: Usage, Formatting, Punctuation Rules

From narrative essays, personal reflections, psychology simulation reports and up to English literature writing and scholarships, using dialogue in an essay can dramatically change student’s chances of delivering a successful paper. However, there are specific rules that have to be considered. Many U.S. college students have failed such essays due to not learning how to write dialogue in an essay. Our writing guide provides clear definition, cases of usage, formatting cases with examples, MLA and APA dialogue rules that have to be known. Thankfully, once these rules are mastered, chances of getting low grades are really low! For best grades, consider turning to one of our creative writers at EduBirdie to receive plagiarism free and unique papers.

Essay Dialogue Definition & Purpose

As most might remember from school, dialogue represents special literary device that helps writers to portray a conversation with two or more individuals involved. Dialogue in an essay can be implemented when writing fiction or nonfiction narrative work. As an example, working with (or citing) movies, plays, books or reports, its usage may even become obligatory for greater effect. However, one should not mistake dialogue with academic research necessity to directly quote from journals, books or any other sources.

The most crucial rule isn’t to confuse direct quotes with dialogues, which is a major mistake that most college students do. Main difference lies not only in formatting rules but in purpose. Purpose of dialogue is being a part of particular story, adding creative or emotionally-charged touch. Unlike direct quotes that have purpose of supporting claims made by an author word by word, it differs by primary intention.  

How to Write Dialogue in an Essay

When Dialogue is Used in an Essay and Why

Naturally, cases of dialogue usage differ from paper to paper, yet majority of writing assignments that include dialogue have creative nature. It’s so because narration always tells a story and adds literary devices to support settings, writing style, and imagery. Psychological element of perception is extremely important, therefore, each sentence has to be creative. Dialogue in an essay adds power to imagery by allowing target audience to live through effect of an actual presence and character of people involved.

There can be various dialogue simulations in Business Management, Education or Psychology university assignments that require creative thinking, yet when students have to work with argumentative or persuasive essays, it’s recommended to apply direct quoting instead to make argumentation reliable. Since our claim has to be strong or even supported by a source, citing existing source is correct in such cases.

Likewise, working with expository essays students explain mechanics of certain facts by providing definite facts. General rule with understanding whether dialogue fits in your paper is thinking about importance of direct claims. If no claim has to be made, creative use of conversation is allowed. It helps to relate stories, knowledge, and feeling of belonging to an audience.

For example, when one has to present conversations with friends or work colleagues, writing an argumentative paper, it is recommended to use direct quotes, marking it as "Personal Interview" or "Personal Conversation", when citing. College professors expect students objectivity, correct attitude that shows scientific approach. Turning to dialogue essay is acceptable in narration or when writer has to be reflective.

Approach this task as a report on speech where there’s no need to include all details. Recreating it from one's memory, writer uses dialogue to add depth, emotional background or mood to explain provided story's content. Remember that conversation has to capture reader's attention, explain settings, and be realistic enough.

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How to Format Dialogue in an Essay

The most challenging part is how to format dialogue in an essay, yet with basic rules explained, it will not seem too difficult!

Note: Our writing guide focuses on U.S. English rules of grammar, which means that it’s always better to check twice due to possible differences in your country.

  • Apply double quotation marks when signifying that character uses speech

For example:

When I failed college exams, my mother told me, "You should try harder, son."

  • When using quotes in quotes, use single quotation marks

As shown below:

"I recall watching Colbert Report episode that said 'Politics and religion do not mix' and feeling amazed," the course instructor said.

  • If conversation extends across more than one paragraph, implement quotation marks right where each paragraph starts. However, closing double quotes can only be implemented when character’s speech reaches its end

See this example:

James smiled and said, "It might be difficult at first. If we choose another approach for mediation, we won't be concerned about privacy.

Still, third party presence might irritate people like John and Mike. Let's hope it works out."

Another important issue that should be considered by students learning how to put dialogue in an essay relates to correct punctuation. We will use correct and incorrect examples for clearer referencing.

- If your used speech quotation locates at sentence end, always implement full stop. It should be inside inverted commas, as in here:  

Wrong use: His mother exclaimed, "Do your college homework right now, please".

Correct use: An old man commented, "This essay is worth gold."

- Speaking of questions or use of exclamation signs, there’s a rule that states if it’s related to character’s words, they should be placed inside quotation.

Incorrect: Johnny shouted, "This is against the rules"!

Correct: Linda commented, "Sounds right to me!"

- If quote belongs to another greater sentence that represents question or contains an exclamation in it, punctuation marks go beyond speech being marked.

Wrong quotation example: What would you think when professor says, "Have you seen additional grading rubric?"

Proper way: What did you do when your father shouted, "Where is Andrew"?

- If intended speech tag appears before you implement a quote, it is necessary to make it separate, therefore, writers put comma before quotation mark.

Wrong: His sister said, "I'm going to John's graduation tonight."

Correct: Mr. Brown said, "Essay writing online is possible".

- Now if conversation element appears after quotation marks, correct way is to place comma inside replica’s mark. Like this:

"Just make sure my tea is hot", my brother warned me as I went outside.

- Finally, if there is interruption in a phrase, it is necessary to put comma after the first part of used phrase. As explanatory part finishes (who speaks), comma is used once again. See our example:

"Not exactly," Tom said in teary voice, "It's plain wrong to think so."

Read also: To be confident in the explanatory part, read our guide about how to write an explanatory essay

Now that we know how to quote dialogue in an essay, let us proceed with APA and MLA formatting peculiarities!

Read also: How to Write Dates with Commas Correctly?

Dialogue Formatting in APA and MLA essay formats

MLA formatting:

  • Place dialogue in new paragraph, even if speech is really small.
  • Use commas to separate speech tags.

He said,

"Oh, dear! I think we forgot to invite Jamie."

  • If character's speech is more than one paragraph, start every paragraph with inverted commas.
  • Remember that final quotation mark is placed at paragraph's end.

During his graduation, he said,

"I did not think that Social Psychology is right for me, but then I started working part-time at our local shelter. It was a time changing experience!

"Thanks to my college professors, my parents, everyone who has made it possible today."

How to quote a conversation in an essay APA format:

  • In APA format, if character in speech uses not much text, the same paragraph contains dialogue tags and quotes.
  • Commas are used for dialogue tags separation as well as quoting.

Laura said, "I'm feeling tired. Can you help me with my assignment?"

  • If speech is more than 40 words, inverted commas should be at the beginning of every paragraph, as well as at conversation's end.

During our meeting, he said,

"Nothing can be as damaging as working at college assignments few hours before deadline."

"No proofreading is done when student is always hurrying up. I recommend online writing services if one absolutely needs professional help and has no time."

  • If your dialogue involves more than two people, each person has his or her own paragraph in essay text.

"Ashley Construction Group. How can I help you?" She said.

"Stella? I think John asked you to text him this morning. Could you?" He exclaimed.

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