I'm writing (and peer reviewing) rhetorical analyses written in MLA style and have come across punctuation in quotations not matching the MLA style guidelines, as the original author was writing in a different style.

An example is the em dash: in section 2.28 of the MLA Handbook, it's specified that "no space comes before or after the dash." However, the punctuation in the original, cited text does have spaces on either side. When I cite such text in my MLA-styled essay, am I expected to keep the original punctuation or change it to consistently match the style of the rest of the essay, as doing so wouldn't change the meaning of the quote?

I searched the MLA Handbook as much as I've had time (and patience) to, as well as made Google searches in various different wordings, but I haven't found anything at all related to my question.

1 Answer 1


The MLA handbook explicitly says that altering the original punctuation, capitalization, grammar, etc of a quotation requires you to show with brackets or parentheses that you have altered the quote. In other words, quotations aren't expected to follow MLA style, and the general preference is preserving the original style and content of the writing being quoted, except where necessary for context or brevity.

Review the quotation rules here, particularly the section at the end that deals with adding or omitting words.

A good rule of thumb going forward, with MLA: changing the original text is never necessary in a quotation. It is always done at the writer's discretion for the sake of improving readability, comprehension, or both. Because you're required to show wherever you alter the original text, going in and doing these tiny edits to punctuation is just not workable. Just think about it. How would you, abiding by MLA rules for using brackets and ellipses to indicate changes to the text, indicate you removed a space around an emdash, in a way that didn't utterly confuse whoever read it?

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