The Fastest, Most Accurate Way to Find & Format Block Quotes in APA, Chicago, MLA and Other Styles

If you are creating a document that has a lot of quotes–maybe a qualitative study–you will have to format some of your quotes as block quotes. Block quotes are quotes that are indented to the left (in academic manuscripts, they are not usually indented to the right too, just the left). In APA style, we set quotes in block style if they are 40 words or more, and in Chicago style the threshold is 100 words.

But what happens if you have a long document, perhaps a dissertation, and you want to format all of your long quotes quickly? You can go through one by one, highlight a quote with the mouse, and click the word count button, but that takes a really long time. In the video below, I show you how to do this very quickly.

Note, the video below is for a PC. The process is slightly different for a Mac, so if you’re a Mac user, please see the screen shots at the bottom of this post for how to search for a string of text between two smart quotes (you still have to format your smart quotes first). 

For PC Users


The method basically involves three steps.

Step 1: Format Your Quotation Marks

First, we are going to change all of our straight quotes (the unformatted ones) to what Word calls “smart quotes” or “curly quotes.” In most cases we would want the quotes to be formatted anyway, and most of them probably will be formatted. But this step is a double check to make sure that we didn’t miss any. So this is a bit of a bonus in that we’ll have even formatting of all quotation marks. In the video I explain this, but the short answer is that you open your Find and Replace bar, which is located in the Home tab. Then click the More button, and check the Show Wildcards box.

Click on the Home Tab
Click on the Home Tab.
Open the Find & Replace Tool
Open the Find & Replace Tool (if you don’t have this option, click on Find and then, in the tool window that opens, choose the Replace tab).


Click the More button and then check the box to use Wildcards
Click the More button and then check the box that says Use Wildcards.

Then in your search bar, search for a quotation mark. You can use the Replace feature to replace a quotation mark with a quotation mark, and it will automatically change from straight quotes to smart quotes. Don’t hit replace all because Word sometimes accidentally puts a backwards quotation mark, so go through one by one and keep an eye on the results.

Step 2: Find Long Quotes

The second step is to search for strings of words that fall between quotation marks of 40 words or more in APA style (or 100 words or more in Chicago style). Actually, if you’re using the guideline of a certain amount of lines (for instance, Chicago also recommends 6-8 lines of text, and MLA recommends blocking quotes of more than 4 full lines), you can use this method–in that case you would just keep an eye on the highlighted text as you go through and count the lines. In any case, in your search bar, search for [^0147]*[^0148]

That will return strings within an opening and closing quotation mark. As a bonus, you will quickly find out if you forgot to add any opening or closing quotation marks. Click Find Next and Word will highlight each quote one at a time for you. As you go through, keep an eye on the bottom-left part of the screen, where you will see the number of words within each quote displayed. When you get to a quote that meets your threshold, you’ll want to block it.

Step 3: Format Your Block Quotes

So this is the third step. To block the quote, click the Enter button (the quote must be on its own line for the formatting to work), delete the opening quotation mark, delete the closing quotation mark, and click Enter again. So now the quote is on its own line and has no quotation marks. Format it as you want (usually this just means indenting the entire quote by a half inch). Highlight the quote, then click the Home tab, go to the Styles boxes on the right, click the little down arrow, and click Save as New Style or Create New Style (depends on which version of Word you have). Name your style Block Quote or something to help you remember and click OK. Now each time you get to a block quote, you can remove the quotation marks, put it on its own line, and click Block Quote and you’ll have a formatted quote. This still involves some manual work but it is much faster and more accurate than checking everything without the help of the advanced finds and formatting features.

For Mac Users

The steps below work for Word for Mac versions 2008 and 2011.

Step 1: Format Your Quotation Marks to Smart Quotes

This step is basically the same as it is on the PC, so please see the PC instructions above. If you have trouble finding the “Use Wildcards” box, see the screenshots below.

Step 2: Find the Long Quotations

I found this easier to show in images, so please see the screenshots below (instructions are in the captions below each image).


In the search bar at the top-right of the screen, click the down arrow and choose Replace.
In the search bar at the top-right of the screen, click the down arrow and choose Replace.


Advanced Find & Replace on Mac
In the new search bar that opens up on the left of the screen, click the little gear icon and choose Advanced Find & Replace.


Use Wildcards & Search Smart Quotes on Mac
Click the down arrow to open up the advanced options. Check the box that says Use Wildcards. Then, copy and paste an opening smart quote from your document (you can’t type it in, it has to be copied and pasted). Type an asterisk and then copy and paste a closing smart quote in, so your search string should be “*”. Then click the Replace tab (at the top of the window you are in), and click Find Next to find the next string of text between quotation marks.



Tip: Once you have clicked Find Next at least one time, you can close out of the advanced find-and-replace box (the Use Wildcards option will still be selected). Then you can use the sidebar on the left to do your searches, as it’s usually easier to deal with the document without the extra window open.

Hope that helps save you some time and make your document more consistent. Good luck!


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Rocky Citro

Hi, my name is Rocky, and I am a technical academic editor with over a decade experience editing for professors and graduate students in prestigious universities. I have also taught writing at the graduate and undergraduate level and have several years' TEFL teaching experience.