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Published: Friday 25th of January 2013

How To Quote Lyrics In An Essay: Tips And Examples

When writing an essay on poetry, also known as the lyrics essay, you cannot do without quoting from the original text. And, of course, when you do, you will have to follow specific academic formatting requirements. Usually, your professor should indicate specifically which format s/he expects you to adhere to. If s/he does not, you may either double-check with the professor again or choose MLA as your default formatting option — after all, most papers in humanities are formatted in this particular style.

One more perk of choosing MLA style as your default formatting option (not only for formatting lyrics and poetry but for academic writing in general) is that its rules are rather flexible. Even though the style does follow a couple of very specific requirements, most MLA formatting ‘rules’ are not exactly unbreakable.

When it comes to quoting lyrics, in particular, make a note of the following standard guidelines:

For quoting four or more lines of text

  • indent the quote from your body text paragraph
  • keep the original lyrics and punctuation intact
  • start and end each line just the like the original author did
  • include the name of the author in parenthesis after the quote
  • include a page number if available (separated from an author’s name by a comma).

For example

Your paragraph text goes here, and when you are ready to support your point of view with a quotation, you include a colon and go straight to your quote:

Tender moments come and go and have no place. Like sediment, when the wine is drunk, left in the glass, forgotten (Kherdian, 45).

For quoting less than four lines of text, you do not have to indent the citation. You can just leave it in your body paragraph, marking each new poetry line with a slash. In this case, you have to frame the text you are referring to in quotation marks. All the other requirements remain the same. So, if the above quotation had only three lines, it would look like this: “Tender moments/ come and go and have no place./ Like sediment, when the wine is drunk” (Kherdian, 45).

If no page number is available (usually, when quoting from a digital source), the only thing you need in brackets after the quotation is the author’s last name. It’s absolutely alright — no need to worry if you cannot provide a page number.

On the off chance that your professor specifies APA as a formatting style, note that the actual quotes will look the same. The only detail that will change is the way your reference the author. In particular, APA style does not presuppose referencing a page number. It does, however, require the year of publication after the author’s last name (without any punctuation marks in between). So, in case of APA lyrics essay, your author reference would look like this: (Kherdian 2009).

Further tips on quoting lyrics in an essay

When writing an essay about poetry, you will often be assigned to complete a certain number of pages. This, however, does not mean that you are to fill pages of your text with the original lyrics. First off, remember that the amount of quotes in any academic paper should be no more than 10% — quite often, even less. This includes both primary sources (that is, reference to the original poem) and secondary ones (references to what critics and other writers had to say about the poem).

Bottom line, consider quotes as means of supporting your point of view with evidence — both from the original and the additional research on the subject. And, of course, do not forget to properly reference them in the Works Cited (for MLA style) or References (for APA format) page.