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  • How to Format Dialogue: Examples and Writing Tips

dialogue in an essay

What Is a Dialogue and Its Types?

How to format dialogue in an essay, quotation marks and capitalization.

  • Punctuation

Reporting Verbs and Dialogue Tags

How to quote a dialogue in an essay correctly, effective tips on dialog writing, 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  by Write My Essay 4 Me 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.

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.

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.


  • Use a comma after the dialogue tags that precedes direct speech.
  • Use colon to introduce direct speech that expresses a finished idea or sentence.
  • 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.
  • 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.

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.

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. Although, there are other styles such as Chicago and ASA format . Let's have a look at the rules to punctuate dialogue and direct quotes correctly.

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. 
  • If the quotation is too long or contains irrelevant information for you add ellipsis to indicate some information was omitted.
  • When adding indirect quotes, do not add either double or single quotation marks.

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

We have a lot of useful blogs for our users. Read how to write an essay quickly  and follow all these tips. Use our examples for writing different kinds of tasks.

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.

Before you start writing an essay, it is essential to know your goal and what thoughts you want to deliver to your reader. An essay outline serves as a skeleton of the paper you are going to write. It can be a bit more complicated to develop a well-written essay if you have no structure to follow. Y...

Students face the necessity to write lots of essays. Balanced paragraph and topic sentences are an inevitable part of any good paper. They express the main idea of a paragraph, informing the reader what it is about, and help make the paper coherent. Good topic sentences have some compulsory elements...

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How to Write Dialogue in an Essay

Dialogue is a spoken or written exchange between two or more people. The name comes from a Greek word διάλογος meaning “conversation”. The concept itself is very straightforward since everyone is having multiple conversations daily. However, it gets tricky when we try to convey dialogue in writing. You have to be very careful with punctuation and formatting, so as not to confuse your reader about who says what.

As a rule, dialogues aren’t present in the academic style, so they rarely can be found in college essays. However, there are some exceptions:

  • Reflective essays
  • Narrative essays
  • Creative writing assignments
  • Dialogue simulations used in Psychology, Business Management, and Education
  • Interview transcripts you append to your research papers

Other types of essays may also creatively include short exchange as a personal anecdote for a hook.

You can also quote the dialogues from literature and film pieces you analyze. If this is the case, you must keep the punctuation and formatting of the original and cite the source properly.

Whatever the case, it’s important to know how to write a dialogue in an essay properly.

How To Write Dialogue in an Essay (MLA style guide)

  • Each speaker gets new paragraph, however brief their line is
  • Dialogue tags are separated by commas
  • Punctuation of what is being said goes inside the quotation marks
  • If one of the characters breaks into a long speech (several paragraphs), you should use opening quotation marks at the beginning of every paragraph. Do not use closing quotation marks until the end of the very last paragraph of that speech.

Is Dialogue Formatting Any Different in APA?

The APA dialogue formatting recommendations are just the same as the ones suggested by the MLA guide. The differences between APA and MLA norms are very slight and visible the most in the citation styles.

The confusion between citation and the dialogue sometimes occurs because both involve someone’s reported speech incorporated into your own text with the help of quotations marks. However, these two are very different and it’s important to know how to tell them apart.

  • Is a representation of a conversation
  • A literary device that usually can be found in a story
  • Can be creatively used in narrative essays
  • Is a way to report information from a source word for word
  • Used to provide evidence or to support your claims
  • Routinely used in argumentative writing

If you are confused about anything to do with writing, formatting, or particular aspects of academic style, don’t hesitate to contact our professional paper writers for clarification and examples.

Writing Dialogue in an Essay

If you are sure that dialogue is appropriate for your essay, for example, you are writing a personal statement for your college admission and want to include the conversation you had with a friend, then it’s very important to get the formatting right. Here are the general rules of writing dialogue in an essay:

1. Single line:

- quotations before the sentence starts

- punctuation inside the quotes

“Haven’t you ever sent out the laundry?”

“Is it there?”

“It most certainly is.”

“Well, I guess I haven’t, then.”

(F. Scott Fitzgerald, “The beautiful and Damned”)

2. Single line + dialogue tag (she responded, he said, they bellowed, Jane whispered, etc.)

- quotations before the sentence

- dialogue line and a tag are parts of a single sentence, so the tag starts with lowercase word

“I can’t help thinking about what it will look like,” he answered.

“The garden?” asked Mary.

“The springtime,” he said.

(Frances Hodgson Burnett, “The Secret Garden”)

3. Tag + single line

- comma before quotes

- the first word of the spoken phrase is capitalized

Catherine explained: “Oh! As to that, Papa and Mamma were in no hurry at all. As long as she was happy, they would always be satisfied.”

(Jane Austen, “Northanger Abbey”)

4. Tag inside the line:

- comma/question mark/exclamation point at the end of the interrupted line

- lowercase first word of the tag

- quotations again before the rest of the line

“What’s the danger?” asked Pippin. “Will he shoot at us, and pour fire out of the windows; or can he put a spell on us from a distance?”

(J.R.R. Tolkien, “The Two Towers”)

5. If single line gets cut off:

- em dash inside quotes to signify the dialogue being cut off

- the next dialogue line follows normally

“A rebel!” repeated Henry. “Yes; you and papa had quarreled terribly, and you set both him and mamma, and Mrs. Pryor, and everybody, at defiance. You said he had insulted you – “

“He had insulted me,” interposed Shirley.

(Charlotte Bronte, “Shirley”)

6. If a person in a dialogue quotes someone:

- single quotation marks for the quote inside the line

“Silly how people go on ‘I don’t know the first thing about dialogue formatting’ but never do anything about it,” I concluded this guide.

Confused? No wonder! Dialogue formatting often follows the intricate logic that is difficult to grasp at once. We can help you with that! Our writers have mastered all the minute details of dialogue formatting and can translate even the most subtle aspects of any exchange into writing.

Elissa Smart

Elissa Smart

Elissa Smart is an omnipotent demiurge behind PaperHelp's blog. Driven by seething creativity, not only she helps students with particular research and writing requests, but also finds the energy to share her extensive expertise via blog posts. A Barclay College graduate, Elissa puts her BA in Psychology & Family Studies and MA in Transformational Leadership degrees to good use, being of benefit to readers who are willing to learn from accomplished experts. She can also talk about boating on the Lake Superior by the hour, roots for Atlanta Falcons, and loves to sing in thick woods.

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How to Write Dialogue in a Narrative Paragraph


Hayley Milliman

How to Work With Multiple Points of View

What is Dialogue?

How to write dialogue, how to punctuate your dialogue, periods and commas, question marks and exclamation points, final thoughts.

Dialogue is the written conversational exchange between two or more characters.

Conventional English grammar rules tell us that you should always start a new paragraph when someone speaks in your writing.

“Let’s get the heck out of here right now,” Mary said, turning away from the mayhem.

John looked around the pub. “Maybe you’re right,” he said and followed her towards the door.

Sometimes, though, in the middle of a narrative paragraph, your main character needs to speak.

Mary ducked away from flying fists. The fight at the pub was getting out of control. One man was grabbing bar stools and throwing them at others, and while she watched, another one who you could tell worked out regularly grabbed men by their shirt collars and tossed them out of the way. Almost hit by one flying person, she turned to John and said, “Let’s get the heck out of here right now.”

In my research, I couldn’t find any hard and fast rules that govern how to use dialogue in the middle of a narrative paragraph. It all depends on what style manual your publisher or editorial staff follow.

For example, in the Chicago Manual of Style , putting dialogue in the middle of paragraphs depends on the context. As in the above example, if the dialogue is a natural continuation of the sentences that come before, it can be included in your paragraph. The major caveat is if someone new speaks after that, you start a new paragraph and indent it.

On the other hand, if the dialogue you’re writing departs from the sentences that come before it, you should start a new paragraph and indent the dialogue.

The fight at the pub was getting out of control. One man was grabbing bar stools and throwing them at others, and another one who you could tell worked out regularly grabbed men by their shirt collars and tossed them out of the way.

Punctuation for dialogue stays consistent whether it’s included in your paragraph or set apart as a separate paragraph. We have a great article on how to punctuate your dialogue here: Where Does Punctuation Go in Dialogue?

It’s often a stylistic choice whether to include your dialogue as part of the paragraph. If you want your dialogue to be part of the scene described in preceding sentences, you can include it.

But if you want your dialogue to stand out from the action, start it in the next paragraph.


Dialogue is a fantastic way to bring your readers into the midst of the action. They can picture the main character talking to someone in their mind’s eye, and it gives them a glimpse into how your character interacts with others.

That said, dialogue is hard to punctuate, especially since there are different rules for different punctuation marks—because nothing in English grammar is ever easy, right?

We’re going to try to make this as easy as possible. So we’ll start with the hardest punctuation marks to understand.

For American English, periods and commas always go inside your quotation marks, and commas are used to separate your dialogue tag from the actual dialogue when it comes at the beginning of a sentence or in the middle. Here are a few examples:

Nancy said, “Let’s go to the park today since the weather is so beautiful.”

“Let’s go to the park today since the weather is so beautiful,” she said.

“Let’s go to the park today,” she said, “since the weather is so beautiful.”

British English puts the periods and commas inside the quotation marks if they’re actually part of the quoted words or sentence. Consider the following example:

  • She sang “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”, the theme song from The Wizard of Oz.

In the above example, the comma after “Rainbow” is not part of the quoted material and thus belongs outside the quotation marks.

But for most cases when you’re punctuating dialogue, the commas and periods belong inside the quotation marks.

Where these punctuation marks go depends on the meaning of your sentence. If your main character is asking someone a question or exclaiming about something, the punctuation marks belongs inside the quotation marks.

Nancy asked, “Does anyone want to go to the park today?”

Marija said, “That’s fantastic news!”

“Please say you’re still my friend!” Anna said.

“Can we just leave now?” asked Henry.

But if the question mark or exclamation point is for the sentence as a whole instead of just the words inside the quotation marks, they belong outside of the quotes.

Does your physical therapist always say to his patients, “You just need to try harder”?

Do you agree with the saying, “All’s fair in love and war”?

Single Quotation Marks

Only use single quotation marks for quotes within quotes, such as when a character is repeating something someone else has said. Single quotes are never used for any other purpose.

Avery said, “I saw a sign that read ‘Welcome to America’s Greatest City in the Midwest’ when I entered town this morning.”

“I heard Mona say to her mom, ‘You know nothing whatsoever about me,’ ” said Jennifer.

Some experts put a space after the single quote and before the main quotation mark like in the above example to make it easier for the reader to understand.

Here’s a trickier example of single quotation marks, question marks, and ending punctuation, just to mix things up a little.

  • Mark said, “I heard her ask her lawyer, ‘Am I free to go?’ after the verdict was read this morning.”

Perfectly clear, right? Let us know some of your trickiest dialogue punctuation situations in the comments below.

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How to Write a Dialogue Essay

How to Write a Dialogue Essay at SolidEssay.com

How to write a dialogue essay – things to consider

The difficulty with writing a dialogue essay is that very often the artistic skills needed to accomplish such a task are not supplemented by the appropriate logical skills to manifest a strong thesis . The author starts writing a story instead of an essay. Notwithstanding, you should expose your thesis regarding a given issue, not only to make the reader think and reflect on it, but also to be able to compare your point and the potential counter-arguments.

Opinions and theses

The main task here is to express opinions. That is, to refer to the points of view of some common people. Of course, it is not impossible to present the views of renowned scientists or scholars in a given field (as Plato did in his dialogues). However, you should put stress on what people usually believe in (opinions), and not on what has been certainly proved. Your thesis can turn around your personal opinion. Just imagine that there’s an opponent in front of you. What would they tell you? How will you defend your thesis?

Let’s say that you know your topic very well and have gathered the required information. As an introduction you may present the main characters of the dialogue; tell a little about their biography or personal convictions. Then you have to put the ideas of the characters in order. For that reason, it is good to make a preliminary sketch, which you should follow during the writing process. Don’t rely on spontaneity, it won’t work here.

In contrast with other essays, a dialogue essay should not include direct quotations. You can, of course, incorporate anyone else’s ideas or theories, but without quoting them directly. One thing you may do is to mention the name of the scholar or theorist in question, or the name of their theory.

A dialogue essay should not include direct quotations. You can incorporate anyone else’s ideas or theories, but without quoting them directly. Tweet This

Number of characters

A typical dialogue requires two main characters in order to show a given issue from opposite sides. Still, Plato’s dialogues consist of referring to many points of view. Thus, a person can hold various views on a topic, and the other one can repudiate them gradually, one by one. This is the method of Socrates. We recommend you not to use such complicated methods, but rather to employ two characters and to emphasize their personal views from the very beginning.

You can expose the arguments of each person in two ways: first, en bloc , i.e. together in one paragraph, and second, separately, by exposing them in different assertions. Thus, the opponent will try to repudiate each point separately. The second way allows the reader to follow the discussion point by point.

You do not need to be too creative here: just use a little imagination. Describe the circumstances of the dialogue in short: more important is what the characters are saying.

You can use a general recapitulation of the discussion as a conclusion of the essay . For example, the first character refers to the initial theses of both persons again, and shows their development in short. Since the dialogue should have a conclusion, here you have to incorporate an assertion in the character’s speech, which both characters agree upon. Remember: a dialogue essay should have clear conclusion.

The recommendations above will assist you only in planning your first draft. How to write a dialogue essay is a matter, which depends on your preparation and efforts. Write the draft several times and always ask your friend to read it and provide you with some feedback. This is the way to improve your writing skills. 

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How To Format Dialogue (includes examples)

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