How to write dialogue in an essay

Knowing how to include source materials in the paper is an important topic of academic writing. You can cite the sources to back up your argument, extend it, or even use it to analyze a counter argument and study it’s validity.

This skill is very important and thus many students need to know quotation rules.

Students may experience difficulties of when and how to write dialogue in an essay. Some of them don’t even know the difference between quotes and dialogue, as well as how to use punctuation around it. The reason for having difficulties is because many academic subjects concentrate only on claim based papers where there is no need to use a dialogue. Below, you will find out how to include dialogue in an essay and why it can be very effective.

Definition of dialogue

Dialogue is a literary technique that authors apply to show a conversation between two or more people. It is a tool that is used in many kinds of fiction – prose, movies, books, and even essays. It is critical not to confuse quotations from an external source and dialogue. Dialogue is aimed to create a more dramatic and visual effect, while direct quotes can be checked through citations.

You need to use quotation marks when quoting from source as well as to identify dialogue in an essay. However, rules around the two may alter. Therefore, it is important to know the difference between the two. The main differences between quotations and dialogue include:

  • Dialogue. It is a conversation between two or more people. It happens in a story (movie, play, book). It is used by writers to create a more visual effect in the story. It is included in narrative essays.
  • Direct quotes. It is information from a source applied word for word. It is used to back up evidence. It also evaluates counter arguments. It is usually used in claim based essays.

One of the most common mistakes the writers do is using a dialogue as a direct quote. This happens because students are taught to apply speech as direct quotes in claim based papers. Therefore, they don’t know that they can use a narration and create dialogue in the range of papers to give them more significance. This leads to the fact, that students do not know the rules of how to write dialogue in an essay and why it is good to use it.

When to use a dialogue

Dialogues are important part of television, movies, plays, and novels. When it comes to essay writing, it is critical to keep in mind that dialogue can only be used in narrative papers.

Narrative papers are different from most of other kinds of writing. Other kinds of essays have an objective to make a claim about a certain problem. For instance, argumentative essays aim to make a claim that one position is right. Expository essays make claims about how a certain idea or a model works. Narrative papers don’t make claims like this. It is a kind of essay that is applied to tell stories and experiences to the reader. Therefore, they are more like stories in nature. When describing experiences, you need to include conversations you had with other people.

When using dialogue in expository or argumentative piece of writing, you wouldn’t be able to strengthen your argument or doubt your creditability, by including dialogue. In this case it is better to use direct quotes from the source. They will be considered the conventional norm because these kinds of papers expect you to be scientific and objective in your discussion.

Types of dialogue

There are two kinds of dialogue. They are:

  • Direct. It is a speech that uses the exact words of the character. You do not need to use quotation marks in this event.
  • Indirect. It is a secondhand narrative of something that was written or said not in the exact words.

When working on a narrative paper, you are telling a story. Sometimes it may be confusing to the reader who is saying what. Therefore, adding dialogue helps clarify who is doing the talking in the story. If you know how to quote someone in an essay, it can help your audience to more easily follow the action of the story.

Rules to follow when writing direct dialogue

There are certain rules you need to follow when including direct dialogues in your papers. They are as follows:

  • Always start a new paragraph when the speaker changes.
  • Apply quotation to define the words that the characters pronounce.
  • Use correct capitalization and punctuation.
  • Ensure the audience knows who is talking.

Writing indirect dialogue

Indirect dialogues do not rely on speech. They use memories, thoughts, or recollections of past conversations to describe significant details of a narrative. You often may need to use indirect and direct dialogue together to enhance the dramatic tension.


In order to learn how to write dialogue in an essay you need to practice a lot. The following tips will help you improve these skills:

  • Read. Reading will improve your creative abilities. You will learn about the form, flow of the narration, and dialogue, which will help you use it more naturally in your own writing.
  • Begin a dialogue diary. Practice vocabulary and speech patterns creating your own dialogues. Record them in a diary, which will give you a chance to enhance your writing abilities and practice how to use punctuation.

Why do you need to use dialogue?

Dialogues in narrative papers are used as a tool, like written fiction. They add character development, tension, and depth to nonfiction writing. Dialogue also assists to move the story forward. It is reported speech and that is why you would be unlikely to remember all the details, so you will have to restore them from memory – remember to use the tones, the words, and emotions that tell the story in the correct style. Your readers will believe the authenticity of dialogue that captures the situation.

How to format dialogue

Here you will find out how to write dialogue in an essay and apply correct formatting when using dialogue in a paper. You will find out how to correctly use the quotation marks as well as how to apply all the punctuation marks.

The rules for writing dialogue in an essay divide into two main categories:

  • Use of other punctuation.
  • Proper use of quotation marks.

Quotation marks

There are three basic rules about the usage of quotation marks. They include:

  • Single quotation is applied to mark quotes. For instance, “I remember reading the quote by Oscar Wilde ‘I can resist everything except temptation’ and it really inspired me,” the writer said.
  • Use double quotation to identify that a person uses speech. For instance, When I was a child, my mother told me, “Before you cross the road, look in both directions.”
  • When you include long dialogue several paragraphs long, you need to use the quotations at the beginning of every paragraph. However, the closing quotation should be used only when the speech ends. For instance, Jack said, “Yeah I think you’re right. If we lay the carpet in the room, it will get dusty soon. However, if we paint the ceiling first it will be fine after.”


There are only several basic rules you need to know about where to use punctuation when including dialogue. They are as follows:

  • If the quote is at the end of a sentence, you should always include periods inside the quotation marks. For instance, Ann said, “Lucy do your homework.”
  • You should include exclamation points and question marks inside the quotation only if they are part of what the person says. For instance, Lucy asked, “Did you finish your homework?”
  • If the quote is a part of a big exclamation or question, you should put the punctuation outside the quotes. Did he say, “He likes her”?
  • Insert commas after the words such as exclaimed, asked, said, or similar verbs if they are before the quote. My father said, “Don’t play the ball in the house.”
  • If the verbs mentioned above go after the quote, the comma should be inside the quotation. Like, “Dinner will be ready soon,” our mother said.
  • If the sentence you are quoting is broken up, insert commas after the first part of the sentence as well as after such verbs as asked, exclaimed, said, etc. Like, “No,” he said, “I don’t have any specific plans for tomorrow.”

When you know how to use proper punctuation, your sentences are easier to understand. If you don’t use any punctuation in your dialogue, you may confuse your reader.

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