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How to Write Dialogue in an Essay

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

- punctuation inside the quotes

- 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:

- quotations before the sentence

- 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:

- quotations before the sentence

- 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:

- quotations before the sentence

- 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.

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