By now, the rules of using quotation marks have probably been pounded into your head–use them when quoting a source or using dialogue, and know where to put your punctuation.
But don’t worry if they haven’t been pounded into your head. I’ll cover it later.
You may understand when to use quotation marks and even when to include quotes from outside sources, but what about dialogue?
That’s the one that always gets you, right?
You may not know the technical difference between quoting a source and using dialogue, or maybe you don’t know how to tell which to include in your essay, or how to properly incorporate dialogue into your essay.
Slow down. Take a breath. Just relax.
I’m here to answer these and other questions you may have about how to write dialogue in an essay. I’ll take you through the main what, when, why, how, and where of writing dialogue:
- What is dialogue?
- When is it appropriate to use dialogue in your essay?
- Why should you use dialogue?
- How to write dialogue in an essay
- Where can you get more information about using dialogue?
Dialogue: What It Is and What It Isn’t
In order for you to know how to write dialogue in an essay, you should know what exactly dialogue is first.
It’s really pretty simple. Dialogue is just a conversation between two or more people. It can be used in movies, plays, fiction or, in this case, essays. Dialogue should not be confused with quotations from outside sources.
Because quotation marks are used with both dialogue and quoting directly from sources, it’s important to know the difference between the two. Here are the main differences to help clear up any confusion you might have:
|Conversation between 2 or more people||Information from an outside source used word-for-word in your essay|
|Used as a hook or as part of a larger story||Used as a hook or to provide support for an argument|
A big point of confusion often comes from directly quoting dialogue. In this case, think about what you’re using that dialogue for–to demonstrate a point in your argument. Therefore, quoting dialogue would fall under the direct quote category.
Now that you know what dialogue is, it’s time to explore when to use it in your essay.
Knowing When to Use Dialogue in Your Essay and Why You Should Bother
As I mentioned before, dialogue is used all over the place, especially in movies, television, novels, and plays. For you and for the purposes of this advice, however, dialogue only really appears in one kind of essay–the narrative essay.
Why is this the case? It’s because other types of essays (i.e., argumentative and expository essays) aim to claim. In an argumentative essay, you are claiming that your point of view is the right one, and in an expository essay you are making a claim about how something works or explaining an idea.
Narrative essays, on the other hand, involve a more story-like nature. They tell readers of your past experiences. Many of those experiences include other people and the conversations you’ve had with them.
Using dialogue in argumentative and expository essays usually won’t add to your argument and may actually make it weaker. This is because your friends and family are probably not the best sources to get your support from–at least not for essays. Instead, it’s a better plan to directly quote or paraphrase from experts in the topic that your essay is about.
Using dialogue in narrative essays is a great technique. Dialogue helps move the story along, adds dimension to any characters you might have, and creates more interest for the reader.
Don’t believe me? Imagine reading a novel in which none of the characters spoke, or a movie in which none of the actors had a single line. Pretty boring, right? Well the same concept can apply to your narrative essay.
How to Write Dialogue in an Essay
Now that you understand when to use dialogue, we can get into the nitty-gritty of proper formatting. (That is, just in case your teacher hasn’t covered it, or if you need a little bit of a review.) The rules for writing dialogue in your essay break down into two main categories: proper use of quotation marks and where to put other punctuation.
Quotation Marks (U.S. rules)
There are three main rules about quotation marks you need to know. They’re listed below, followed by examples:
Rule 1: Use double quotation marks to indicate that a person is speaking in your writing.
Example: When I was young, my mother told me, “Follow your passion and the money will come.”
Rule 2: Use single quotation marks around a quote within a quote.
Example: “What did Benjamin Franklin mean when he said, ‘An investment in knowledge pays the best interest’?” Ms. Jackson asked.
Rule 3: If a person in your essay has more than a paragraph of dialogue, use the opening quotation marks at the beginning of each paragraph, but use closing quotation marks only at the end of the dialogue.
Example: Sarah nodded and said, “I think you’re right. We can’t get very far on this project if we can’t work together.
“But now there’s hardly any time left. Do you really think we can get it all done by Friday?”
There are only a few basic rules you need to know about where to put your punctuation when using dialogue.
Rule 1: If the quotation is at the end of a sentence, ALWAYS put your periods inside the quotation marks.
Ricky cried, “Lucy, you’ve got some ‘splaining to do”.
Doc explained, “The reason the time machine isn’t working is because the flux capacitor doesn’t have enough power.”
Rule 2: Put question marks and exclamation points inside the quotation marks only if they are part of what the person said.
The girl shouted, “Get that thing away from me”!
Billy was so ecstatic that he screamed, “I passed! I passed calculus!”
Rule 3: If the quote is part of a larger question or exclamation, put the punctuation after the quotation marks.
Did you hear Leo scream, “I’m king of the world?”
Did he just say, “The bird is the word”?
Rule 4: Use commas after said, asked, exclaimed or other similar verbs if they fall before the quote.
My brother said “I’m going to get you for this, sis.”
Mom always says, “Don’t play ball in the house.”
Rule 5: Place a comma inside the quotation marks if those verbs come after the quote.
“It’s getting dark. Come back inside” our mother called.
“Dinner will be ready in 10 minutes,” Mrs. Perkins said.
Rule 6: If a quoted sentence is broken up, put commas after the first part of the sentence, and after said, asked, exclaimed, etc.
“Yeah” she shrugged “I guess you’re right.”
“No,” she said, “I don’t have any plans tomorrow.”
Proper use of quotation marks and punctuation is not some random thing that you have to learn for no reason. These rules make your sentences easier to read and understand. Without them, your dialogue may turn into a headache for your reader, or for you when you go back and edit your writing.
Where to Find More Resources for How to Write Dialogue in an Essay
If you need some further clarification, you can use the links below for more examples and explanation on how to write dialogue in an essay.
Quotation Marks with Fiction, Poetry, and Titles – Purdue Owl
Talking Texts: Writing Dialogue in the College Composition Classroom
Writing Story Dialogue
How to Write Dialogue – Grammar Girl
Dialogue in Narrative Essays
In addition, the Kibin personal narrative essay examples can show you what dialogue looks like incorporated into a complete essay.
If you don’t think you quite have the hang of it when you’re done writing, you can send your essay to the Kibin editors for advice on how to fix it.
Psst... 98% of Kibin users report better grades! Get inspiration from over 500,000 example essays.
Admission officers are swamped with applications. Swamped. Particularly at very selective institutions, they need to make quick judgements about students' applications and personal statements. This makes the opening line of that application essay critical. If you want to wow them from the get-go, follow the advice below.
“I hate to break it to you, but your essay might not get read,” my college counselor remarked without even looking up from his computer as I nervously handed him my first draft.
I was horrified at the time, but he was, and still is, right. Just picture it: admission officers, especially those for the most selective institutions, are sifting through a record number of applications and have about three months to eliminate the majority of those deserving, accomplished candidates.
And guess what? When it comes to the Ivy League and their ilk, most of those applicants look identical on paper, with comparable grades, test scores, activity lists, accolades, and course loads. After pulling several weeks’ worth of consecutive all-nighters, the admission officers’ eyes start to blur, and they can barely differentiate among the nation’s best and brightest teenagers, all eagerly vying for a coveted spot in their school’s freshman class. As they flip through the paperwork of yet another valedictorian, someone remarks, “Annie Applicant looks like a run-of-the-mill achieve-o-tron.” But they haven’t gotten to the essays yet, and that’s where students really set themselves apart! They note items on the transcript—over 200 hours of volunteer work at a local special needs daycare, a patent application, a regional award for a short story, the lead role in three school musicals—that really fascinates them, so they assume the essay will shed light on some of these impressive endeavors. Right?
Then they hit the first line of her personal statement.
“For as long as I can remember, I have loved to read. When I was younger, books were my escape. I could really relate to the characters and would get lost in various stories for hours at a time. If I had a bad day, I would curl up with a book.”
Before the admission officers even hit the fourth sentence, they’ve tossed her file into the “eh” pile, purgatory for applicants who don’t have the writing chops to match their academic records. Have Annie’s chances of admission been dashed? Not necessarily, but the uphill battle is infinitely steeper now that she’s done nothing to set herself apart from the other applicants who, shockingly, also love to read.
Perhaps the third paragraph is where Annie’s narrative really comes alive as she weaves readers through her favorite novels and relates characters to her everyday life, giving insight into her world, but who would read that far? The opening is so generic that admission officers simply don’t have time to give Annie the benefit of the doubt; they quickly move on to their discussion of Joe College, whose first line describing his sublime experience as Townsperson #5 in his school play makes them laugh out loud.
So how do students master that strong opening without seeming too gimmicky or desperate? How do they make the gatekeepers to the country’s top schools stop and think, “Wow, even though I am going blind from squinting at countless single-spaced pages, I sure wish this particular essay were longer than 650 words!”?
A great way to capture admission officers’ attention in the application essay is starting with dialogue. This approach is certainly not a Band-Aid for an otherwise mediocre essay, but it might just keep someone reading long enough to get to know you as an applicant.
But before you slap a witty exchange on the top of your essay, make sure you heed these warnings:
Don’t make the other person too interesting
You open with: “‘Hey, are you free to come to the environmental club meeting?’ asked my friend Kevin, who was canvassing the library to recruit helpers for the school-wide solar panel installation project he would be pitching at the next faculty meeting.
‘Sorry, but I’ve got miles to go before I sleep!’ I tell him as I launch back into my independent research project on the theme of depression in Robert Frost’s poetry.”
How might admission officers respond to this exchange? Suddenly, they are more interested in Kevin than they are in you. Then, they put your application aside and look to see if there are any applicants named Kevin from your school so they can learn more about this unique solar panel project.
You should have used Kevin’s voice as a sounding board for expressing your own passions and beliefs, not as the force driving the conversation. You have to remember that you’re selling yourself, not your friends, and you don’t want to be overshadowed by your own essay’s supporting cast.
You open with: “’I have to scamper off to my occupation of preparing caffeinated beverages!’ I elucidate for the benefit of my roommate, Natalie, as I ambulate through our means of egress.”
Admission officers will read that, scratch their heads, and think, “Yeah, I see that she knows some SAT words, but did she mean, ‘I’ve got to run to my job at the coffee shop!’ I shout to Natalie as I scamper out the door”? That version would have saved time and sounded more like an authentic teenager. Now they really have no idea who you are, and even worse, they probably find you annoying.
. . . but not too natural
You open with: “’I’m so wiped I don't even know what to do. Like, I can’t even. It’s ridic!’ I whine as my BFF Selena sits down beside me in English class.”
Admission officers ask themselves, “Is this her real essay? Someone must have hacked her Common App account, because no one would risk coming across as this vapid!” They then worry that you won’t be able to hold your own in seminars on War and Peace when you don’t have the attention span to finish typing the word “ridiculous.” Even if you sound that way in real life (I hope not!), you need to be cognizant of the fact that an essay this important requires you to bring your verbal A-game.
In general, don’t be afraid to lead off with an in-medias-res conversational tidbit that will help you come to life.
Here is an example:
“You ski for how many miles? Then you shoot a rifle?” Andy gasped in disbelief as I explained that I couldn’t hang out after school because I had to go to the range and practice my aim for my upcoming biathlon.
“And every time I miss the target, I have to ski a 150-meter penalty loop just for good measure,” I added, chuckling as Andy’s jaw dropped.
Take your time thinking about what examples best represent you as an applicant in the context of the application essay prompts given. Then, once you narrow your options to a worthy anecdote, explore that moment—and the unique, enchanting, entrancing dialogue within.
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