How to Write Dialogue in an Essay – Your Complete Guide

Your college journey will expose you to essay assignments that include dialogues. But how do you include a dialogue in an essay? This post shares the rules and common practices on how to write dialogue in an essay. Keep reading to learn more and accelerate your essay skills to the peak.

What Is a Dialogue, and What Purpose Does It Serve?

It’s vital to define this concept before examining the details of how to include a dialogue in an essay. So, what is dialogue in an essay? It is a written conversation between characters in a script, story, or novel. In this conversation, several characters talk to each other to advance a story or play. 

A dialogue in an essay serves various purposes. Below are the top ones worth noting.

  • It characterizes characters based on their backgrounds, mindsets, emotional states, and current circumstances. 
  • Dialogue offers background information to help readers understand a story’s plot because writers can’t give everything upfront. 
  • It makes a piece of writing feel more immersive because it breaks long prose passages, giving readers something else to hear beyond the narrator’s voice. 
  • Dialogue also shows how characters relate to each other.
  • Lastly, it can communicate subtext, such as showing social classes between a story’s characters through their language.

Tips for Write a Great Dialogue

We’ve seen the importance of putting dialogue in an essay. But how do you use it most effectively in a dialogue essay? This section shares tips on how to include dialogue in an essay. Keep reading to sharpen your skills and master how to write dialogue in an essay.

  • Determine its purpose. You must determine why you want to include a dialogue in your paper. For instance, you can use it to enhance even flow from narration, action, and character voice. 
  • Utilize quotation marks to begin and end a dialogue. This usage significantly improves your paper’s clarity by separating a character’s speech from the narrative text and enabling readers to keep their place in your story.
  • Maintain the setting. Always remember to add information about the setting where the dialogue happens. This approach balances your story and helps readers feel like the characters.
  • Write a new paragraph for each speaker. Start and indent a new paragraph whenever a new speaker speaks to help you and your readers understand who is speaking. It also makes your story more visually attractive and easy to read. 
  • Use action beats. An action beat enhances your dialogue by adding a narrative description of a character’s movements and emotions.
  • Determine the speaking characters. Understanding your dialogue’s goal helps you decide the speakers, their speech, and their motives. 
  • Start with the action. Give every element of dialogue a goal—beginning with the action or most important information. The conversation must be straightforward to help readers understand it easily.

Rules for Formatting a Dialogue 

Including a dialogue in an essay requires you to follow some rules. Complying with dialogue in writing rules ensures your paper is easy to read and attracts good grades. Keep reading below to master how to write a dialogue in an essay by following quotation and punctuation rules.


Quotation Marks and Capitalization

Quotations and capitalization are critical to including dialogue in an essay. Follow these rules when including it. 

  • All direct speeches should go into double quotation marks at their beginning and ending.
  • Start every character’s words with a new line or paragraph, and you should indent every line. You may have several paragraphs. 
  • Utilize single quotation marks when adding direct speech within double quotation marks.
  • You must capitalize every direct speech’s first word, irrespective of its position. 
  • Don’t capitalize a quote’s continuation in the same sentence.


You must also follow punctuation rules when using dialogue in a paper. The rules are below.

  • Use commas after dialogue tags that precede direct speeches.
  • If quoted speeches precede dialogue tags, commas go inside the quotation marks.
  • Use colons to introduce direct speeches that express finished ideas or sentences.
  • Where there are complete phrases with their original punctuations, add them inside the quotation marks. All periods, quotation marks, question marks, or exclamation marks must go inside quotes. 
  • Don’t add commas after direct quotes that precede dialogue tags if the direct speeches end with specific punctuations, such as full stops and exclamation or question marks.
  • Divide long quoted speeches into several paragraphs and use quotations appropriately.
  • Don’t add any punctuation marks after the closing quotation marks if direct speeches end with an ellipsis.
  • Em dashes that indicate abrupt endings of a dialogue go inside the quotation marks, but don’t mix em dashes and hyphens.

How Do I Structure a Dialogue?

Using dialogue in an essay requires adherence to a certain structure. Remember, a dialogue in essay is a break from a story’s prose narrative. So, formatting it correctly makes things clear. Below are the formatting guidelines to follow: 

  • When using US English, the dialogue goes inside double quotation marks. In UK English, dialogue goes inside single quotation marks.  
  • Whenever a new character speaks, begin a new paragraph even when they say one word.
  • Indent every new paragraph. 
  • Use an em dash to show when a character is being interrupted.
  • Separate the lines of dialogue with actions. When doing this, capitalize the dialogue and actions as you would other sentences. For instance, “Every day,” David recalled, “I slept like a baby.”

Pitfalls to Avoid When Drafting a Dialogue

Citing dialogue is an excellent way of breaking from a story’s prose. However, it would help if you avoided the common pitfalls of including a dialogue in an essay. Below are some of the blunders to avoid when citing a conversation. 

  • Don’t use tags for every piece of dialogue because it makes your paper redundant and breaks the reader’s flow. 
  • Don’t use insufficient tags because they can equally confuse readers. 
  • Avoid dense, unrealistic speech that makes characters seem stiff and unrealistic. A dialogue doesn’t necessarily need to be perfect.
  • Avoid using eye dialect because it can create offensive caricatures. Even when it’s not used offensively, it makes dialogue difficult for readers to understand. Some words like “fella” for “fellow” are generally deemed acceptable. 

Formatting a Dialogue in APA and MLA Essay 

Correct usage of a dialogue in an essay requires adherence to formatting rules. Following MLA and APA formatting for essays with dialogue enhances your paper and boosts your chances for higher grades.


Following the MLA dialogue format in an essay requires the following:

  • Placing dialogues in new paragraphs, even if speeches are small.
  • Using commas to separate speech tags.
  • If a character’s speech exceeds a paragraph, start every paragraph with inverted commas.

APA Format

When using the APA dialogue format in essay, follow these rules.

  • If a character in speech uses little text, the same paragraph must contain dialogue tags and quotes.
  • Use commas for dialogue tags, separation, and quoting.

Sample Dialogues

Learning from a dialogue in an essay example is one of the best ways to sharpen your skills. Below is a dialogue in an essay example for inner and outer dialogue. 

  • Inner dialogue

As Joseph stepped out of the van, he asked himself: why did I go to the amusement park yesterday when I could have taken time with my books? 

He thought to himself, this must have been a foolish blunder. 

  • Outer dialogue

“Papa, can I get permission to go out with my friends tonight?” 

Without thinking twice, Dad responded, “I can’t allow you to take that risk.”

Closing Remarks

A dialogue essay requires you to master the skill of citing dialogue. While this assignment can be a bit challenging, you can perfect your skills by learning from examples and abiding by the established rules. We did just that—shared insights for correct dialogue inclusion, plus examples to help you.

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Caroline Hudson
Journalism & Mass Media
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