I always find myself wondering how to format written text: news (on TV and newspapers), text messages (from a cellphone), lyrics, and poems. Right now, I just put them in a new paragraph and italicize them. Example:

Text Message

    It occurred to Maria to check her phone for text messages. She went to her purse to get it. There was indeed a message from James.    
   My boss just called. One of the freezers broke last night so we have to move all the food to another one before it gets bad. I think I'll spend the whole morning on it. Have breakfast first. I'll call u as soon as I'm done.
   Maria let out a sigh. How could James stand this? She thought his boss


   Taking a bite of her sandwich, Eri pulled her notebook out of her purse, and re-read what she had written yesterday.
   Eri, did you feel the earthquake last night?
   Are you really sure your apartment's alright?

   As though they were some kind of secret code, she examined each of the words. Then she fished for pen, and added two more lines.
   In which planet where you wandering when it came?
   Is reality and the world as you know still the same?
   Eri put down her pen and sipped her cup.


   Making sure there were no other customers, she brought them back to her sea, and began scanning each headline.
   Typhoon Jelawat Kills 62 in Okinawa. Dangerous Toxin Found in Fish for Sale. Price of Rice Raised. Employment Rate Going Down. Tina folded the newspaper and moved to the next one. Taxi Collides with Car Causing 5 Deaths. Man Arrested for Trying to Rob a McDonald's. Temperatures forecast to be higher than average for Aug-Sept. Woman Finds Hat in a Tree.
   By the time Tina was done, she had read nearly forty headlines.

I looked around Google and some say one should use block quotes. What's the conventional way of formatting these things?

2 Answers 2


I have not really come across any conventional way of formatting these things. Much of the (rest of my answer) is based on my readings and a few other sources (which I will be citing).

The short answer first: yes, use block quotes. Solves most of the problems. Keep the following in mind for blockquotes:

  • Indent the content (usually 1 inche)
  • Doublespace
  • Do not include quotation marks

The MLA Guideline for using block quotes can be found here: http://writingcommons.org/format/mla/621-follow-mla-guidelines-for-block-quotations

The long answer:

For text messages, use any of the following strategies:

  • Italicize the text message
  • Underline the text message (a little more distracting than italics)
  • Use a different font than the main text (for example, use Courier instead of regular serifs)

In either case, you would have to do the following too: (essentially making it a block quote)

  • Make sure the content is in a new paragraph
  • Make sure the content is indented (usually 1 inch)

For poems and lyrics, use the following:

The following is based on a book The Agony and the Ecstasy by Irving Stone which includes poems in the middle of the text (was reading the book, so have used it as a reference).

  • Indent the poem 1 inch from the main text (so if you have a margin of 1 inch, the total indentation for the poem becomes 1+1 inches)
  • Use the same line spacing as the main text
  • Use the same font as the main text
  • Include an extra space before and after the poem. For example, it is a usual practice not to include double Enter between paragraphs. However, in this case, include a double paragraph (both before and after).

For newspaper: (have not found any authoritative source for this)

  • If it is just the headline(s) that you are quoting, you can simply italicize them in the main body
  • If you need to include a newspaper clipping, use block quotes

A few other points:

  • The decision to use a different font is generally by the publisher. You can insist that they use a different font for a particular type of content (for example, Instant Messages or text messages)
  • In certain books, the content is center aligned, so I believe it is something that has got more to do with the publishing house than a convention (for example, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon)

Hope these help!

  • I'm pretty much in agreement except for underlines. You should only use underlines for hyperlinks, never for emphasis. Commented Sep 28, 2013 at 11:06
  • @Pravesh Parekh My paragraphs are formatted as 0.25 inches. That means I have to leave the poem as 1.25?
    – wyc
    Commented Sep 30, 2013 at 0:39
  • 1
    @AlexandroChen Do you mean that your paragraphs (main text) has the left/right margin as 0.25 inches? In that case, the poem would have the margin as 1.25 Commented Sep 30, 2013 at 6:58

This is an interesting topic. I'm not seeing any set conventions for this either, but with the advent of e-books, the formatting vagaries bring up new issues. Because the book will be read on a variety of e-readers, and users can vary the reading experience, you can't depend on block text or different fonts to render properly in all situations. So, if you're editing for an e-book, perhaps begin the text in a new paragraph and introduce with an em dash or hyphen? Or use italics, unless you're using italics for so many other situations that you might be confusing the reader.

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