How to Write Dialogue in an Essay

how to write dialogue in an essayKnowing 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

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

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

  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.”


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.

– The bus driver said, “This is your stop”.

– 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.

– The boy screamed, “Watched out the ceiling is falling”!

– 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.

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

– 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.

– My brother said “I’m telling mom that you stole the cookies from the

– My brother said, “I’m telling mom that you stole the cookies from the

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

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

– “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.

– “No” Karen said wrinkling her nose in disgust “That’s just all kinds of

– “No,” Karen said wrinkling her nose in disgust, “That’s just all kinds of

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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