Note to world: MLA style specifies double-spacing of block quotations

From the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, 6th Edition:

If a quotation runs to more than four lines in your paper, set it off from your text by beginning a new line, indenting one inch (or ten spaces if you are using a typewriter [chuckle–ed.]) from the left margin, and typing it double spaced, without adding quotation marks. (3.7.2)

Verse quotations of more than three lines should being on a new line.  Unless the quotation involves unusual spacing, indent each line one inch (or ten spaces on a typewriter) from the left margin and double-space between lines, adding no quotation marks that do not appear in the original.  (3.7.3)

Note that this does *not* say: “Double-space everything *except* block quotations, which should be single-spaced.” Apparently this confusion is widespread, judging by the papers I get.

MLA style dictates that EVERYTHING, even the identifying information in the upper-left-hand corner of page 1, be double-spaced. If you’re wondering, “how should I format this block quotation in MLA style,” the answer is: double-space. If , more generally, you’re wondering, “in MLA style, should I double-space [anything]”, the answer is: YES.

According to the MLA, thou shalt double-space.

Now, there’s no especial virtue in double-spacing or not, but if you’ve been asked to use a style guide, then use the style guide!

That is all.

PS: Some other time we’ll deal with the widespread conviction that “quote” is a noun. (I.e., “I’ve got my quotes . . . I’m all set.”) For this post, at least, let’s distinguish actual guidelines from pet peeves!

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4 Responses to Note to world: MLA style specifies double-spacing of block quotations

  1. Dance says:

    Well, Chicago/history demands single-spaced block quotations, so I’m sure that doesn’t help students keep it straight. But I’ll start pointing out that is different from MLA.

    I have almost joined the dark side on “quote” as a noun, as least in speech.

  2. Brian says:

    As an undergrad, I spent an inordinate amount of time reading the MLA Handbook for fear of losing points on some arcana of MLA formatting. (Plus, it was a convenient, mind-soothing, and rote exercise to do after I’d finished a draft but before I wanted to engage in the bloodletting of editing.) As such, I’ve always been annoyed to see single-spaced block quotations.

    I also lament the shift from ellipses in square brackets “[…]” to the abandonment of the brackets in the transition from editions 5 to 6. What are we coming to as a profession?

  3. jbj says:

    @Dance: In speech, sure, I’ll use quote as a noun. But I usually start railing about this at about the same time I’m explaining that writing shouldn’t be just speech. (My purest psychotic rage is reserved for those who use the present progressive instead of the simple present.)

    @Brian: I don’t mind change. But if a stylesheet gets specified–then use the ^#@^ stylesheet! And I agree about the soothing rituals of such practices . . .

  4. Heather says:

    Thank you so much for this clarification! Would you believe that I’m an English teacher and have taught for years to single-space block quotations? I had a professor in college who swore by it. You have corrected about 200 students this year from learning the incorrect format. Thank you again.

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