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How to Write Dialogue in an Essay

How to Write Dialogue in an Essay

Knowing how to insert source materials into an essay is a central theme of academic writing. Sources can be cited to support your argument, expand it or even to be used to dissect a counter-argument and examine its validity.

This skill is so essential the rules of using quotation marks of when quoting texts are pounded into the student’s head. So much so you know when to quote a textual source and the reason to do so.

One of the areas many students struggle with is when or how they should use dialogue in an essay. A high number of essay writers don’t even know the difference between dialogue and quotes, let alone the correct punctuation surrounding it. The main reason it happens is because a large number of academic subjects focus solely on claim-based essays where dialogue is not used. This article will look at why dialogue can be so effective within a narrative essay and why. The topics discussed will be:

  • What is dialogue?

  • When do you use dialogue?

  • Why use dialogue?

  • How to write dialogue?

  • And Where you can find more information on this subject.

Dialogue: A definition

Dialogue is defined as a literary technique that writers use to depict a conversation between two or more people. Dialogue is a device that is employed in all kinds of fiction – movie, plays, books and can even be used in essays. It's important not to confuse dialogue with quotations from an outside source. Dialogue is largely made up to create a more visual, dramatic effect. Whereas direct quotes can be verified through citations.

Quotation marks are used with quoting from source as well as to mark dialogue in an essay but the conventions around the two change. As such, it is important to know the difference between the two.

Here is a small table that documents the main differences.

Dialogue Direct Quotes
Conversation between 2+ people Information from a source used word for word
Occurs in a story (book, movie, play) Used to support evidence
Is a device used by writers Report/Created Speech Should be included in Narrative Essays Used to evaluate counter-claims Verifiable Speech Should be used in claim based essays

One of the biggest mistakes an essay writer makes is when they use dialogue as a direct quote. This mistake occurs as we are trained to use speech as direct quotes in claim-based essays. As we are trained to do this in the majority of our subjects, we don't know that we can use crafted narration and create dialogue in narrative essays to give them more weight. Due to this, we do not understand the conventions around its use or why to use it.

Dialogue: When to Use it.

Dialogue is a big part of the movies, television, novels, and plays. It is important to keep in mind that when it comes to essay writing, a dialogue only really appears in one type of essay – the narrative essay.

A narrative essay differs from most kinds of essay writing. Other types of essays often aim to make a claim about something. If we look at an argumentative essay, for example, it makes a claim that one point of view is right. And an expository essay will make claims about how a model or idea works. A narrative essay doesn't make claims like this. It is an essay that is used to relate stories and experience to the reader, and as such, it is much more story like in nature. These experiences include conversations the writer has had with other people.

Presenting conversations you had with friends as dialogue in an argumentative essay or expository piece wouldn’t do much to strengthen your argument and would undermine your creditability. It is better to use direct quotes from the source – even if it is spoken material. Direct quotes will be seen as the conventional norm as these types of essay expect the writer to be objective and scientific in their discussion.

Dialogue: Why do you use dialogue

Narrative essays use dialogue as a device – much like written fiction. They add depth, tension and character development to nonfiction writing. It also helps move the story along. As it is reported speech, you would be unlikely to remember all the details; so, you will have to recreate them from memory – remember to use the words, tones, and emotions that report it in the correct flavor. Readers will trust realistic dialogue that captures the situation.

Dialogue: How to format

This section will demonstrate the correct formatting conventions to use when inserting your dialogue into a narrative essay. This section will look at the correct usage of the quotation marks, and where to put other punctuation marks. This will be looking at the U.S rules of grammar – the formations and convention in other variants of English might differ.

Quotations Marks

There are three main rules that surround the usage of quotation marks:

  1. Double quotation marks are used to signify that a person is using speech.

Example: - When I was young, my father warned me, “Look in both direction before you cross the road.”

  1. Single quotation marks are used to mark quotes in quotes.

Example: - “I remember read Oscar Wilde’s quote ‘I can resist everything except temptation’ and feeling so inspired,” the creative writer coach said.

  1. When dialogue extends across several paragraphs, use quotation marks at the start of each paragraph, but only use the closing quotation make when the speech ends.

Example: - Rupert nodded and said, "Yeah I think you're correct. If we lay the carpet before painting the ceiling, we'll need dust sheets.

But if we do the ceiling before laying the new carpet it should be fine.”

Punctuation Here are the basic rules that regarding the placement of punctuation when using dialogue.
  1. If the quote is at the end of a sentence, always put the full stop inside the quotation marks.

Incorrect: - The bus driver said, “This is your stop”.

Correct: - The bus driver said, “This is your stop.”

  1. Question marks and exclamation should be placed inside the quotation mark if they apply to the person's speech.

Incorrect: - The boy screamed, “Watched out the ceiling is falling”!

Correct: - The boy screamed, “Watched out the ceiling is falling!”

  1. When the quote is simply embedded in a larger sentence that is a question or exclamation the punctuation should be placed outside the speech marks.

Incorrect : -How did you feel when the newscaster said, “JFK had been shot?”

Correct: - How did you feel when the newscaster said, “JFK had been shot”?

  1. If a speech tags fall before the quote use a comma before the quotation marks to separate them.

Incorrect: - My brother said “I’m telling mom that you stole the cookies from the jar.”

Correct: - My brother said, “I’m telling mom that you stole the cookies from the jar.”

  1. If the speech tag comes after the quotation marks, then the coma should be placed in the speech marks

Incorrect: - “Just be back in time for tea” My mum warned me before I went to play.

Correct: - “Just be back in time for tea,” My mum warned me before I went to play.

  1. When a sentence is interrupted with a speech tag, a comma should be placed after the first segment of speech and at the end of the speech tag.

Incorrect: - “No” Karen said wrinkling her nose in disgust “That’s just all kinds of wrong.”

Correct: - “No,” Karen said wrinkling her nose in disgust, “That’s just all kinds of wrong.”

It is important to learn how to use quotation marks and punctuation correctly. These rules act as a convention between reader and writer, and as such, using them will make your work easier to read and understand. Without following these rules, your dialogue might be confusing and messy to the reader, which means it will not convey the message you want it to.

Dialogue: Where to find more resources

Here is a collection of some great links that will aid you in crafting the perfect narrative essay, and making sure you get your dialogue quotation spot on. You’ll be writing an amazing narrative essay in no time at all.

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