GUIDELINES FOR WRITING ABOUT LITERATURE
Italicize titles of books, magazines, movies, and long poems (book length). But, use quotation marks around titles of poems, articles, short stores, and chapters.
When a title appears in apposition, do not place commas before and after it:
Wrong: Robert Browning’s poem, “My Last Duchess,” demonstrates the types of irony.
Right: Robert Browning’s poem “My Last Duchess” demonstrates the types of irony.
Better: Robert Browning’s “My Last Duchess” demonstrates the types of irony.
Sometimes a short title can be used, especially if the full title has appeared earlier in the paper: Shelley’s “West Wind” illustrates the inspiration that may be drawn from nature. Not: Shelley’s “Ode to the West Wind” illustrates the inspiration that may be drawn from nature.
2. Punctuation and Citation
a. Commas and periods always come inside closing quotation marks, no matter how short the quoted matter is—even a single word.
The duke said, “I have commands, and all smiles stopped together.”
When we hear “the two hearts beating each to each,” we know the lovers are happy.
b. Use a comma before a quotation that makes a complete sentence.
Example: The rider says, “He will not see me stopping here.”
Notice that, even though that sentence in the poem goes further, the quoted section here still makes a complete statement. You should not quote more than you need of a sentence to prove your point.
c. Use a colon before a quoted passage that is more than one sentence long or a quotation that is set off or centered:
The believer says: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me. Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.”
The poet begins emphatically:
Let me knot to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
You may introduce a quotation without such a word as “says” or “begins” if you use a
colon and if the wording to the left of the colon makes a complete statement.
Example: In the two last lines the poet leaves room for no doubt about the truth he has
been expressing: “If this be error and upon me proved,/I never writ, nor no man ever
d. If, however, you are quoting only a phrase or clause, which does not make a complete statement, do not use any punctuation before or after the quotation marks—unless some other feature of the sentence structure calls for punctuation.
The little flower is “at its play” when the frost beheads it.
e. After all direct quotes in short stories or novels, put the page number locating the quote at the end of the sentence in parenthesis.
Example: Armand had grown cold to Desiree when he said, “Yes, go” (33).
After direct quotes of poetry, put use the line number in parenthesis.
Example: In her poem “This is a Poet,” Dickinson says a poet is that which “distills amazing sense from ordinary meaning” (3).
After direct quotes of plays, put the scene, act, line numbers in parenthesis.
Example: “To be, or not to be” (II.iii.6).
If quoting more than one line of poetry or plays, use forward slash to separate the lines.
Example: “To be, or not to be / That is the question” (II.iii.6-7).
If the quote is over four lines long, double-indent the section and write it just as it appears in the book without quotation marks, unless the quoted dialogue already has quotation marks in it.
3 Other Suggestions
a. Use present tense. A literary work is not history; the writer still speaks to us in
the poem or story.
b. Do not us 2nd person pronoun “you.”
c. Although you should avoid plot summary in your essay, you should use specific details from the stories to support your main points, and you will also want to quote words, phrases, or possibly whole sections.
d. Outline your paper before you start; collect points and examples. You seldom
need to move straight through the work from first to last.
e. Do not overlook the obvious; writers like to reveal truth, not conceal it. So look for surface meaning too, not only hidden meaning.
f. Pay attention to sentence structure in poems and prose—who does what; what modifies what; where does the thought begin and end?
g. Think of the work as a whole—a thing to itself, like a picture or a tree. Each part counts.
h. Trust your own ideas. The only wrong interpretations are those that contradict or ignore what the work actually says.