Italics, quotation marks, underlines, plain old capital letters—when it comes to writing titles, the rules can feel like a confusing mess. Do you italicize book titles? What about movie titles? And for goodness’ sake, what should you do with pesky things like TV shows, short stories, or Youtube videos?
With so many different kinds of media, it’s easy to get lost in all the rules. Let’s demystify them, shall we?
One Rule of Writing Titles
There are two ways we typically indicate titles: by italicizing them, or by putting them in “quotation marks.” We’ll get into the nuances of each in a moment. But let’s start off with one core principle:
Italicize titles of large works (books, movies). Put titles of smaller works (poems, articles) in quotation marks.
For some kinds of media, like book titles, the rules are clear. For others, like Youtube videos, they’re a little fuzzier.
Whatever kind of media you’re working with, examine it through this principle: italics for large works; quotation marks for small works.
This principle will help you navigate those areas of uncertainty like a pro.
When to Use Italics
Italicize the titles of large works. What are large works? I’m glad you asked.
A large work might be:
- A book, like Gone With the Wind
- A movie, like The Dark Knight
- An anthology, like The Norton Anthology of English Literature
- A TV show, like Friends
- A magazine, like The New Yorker
- A newspaper, like The New York Times
- An album, like Abbey Road
This principle holds true for newer forms of media, too, like:
- A vlog, like Vlogbrothers
- A podcast, like This American Life
When to Use Quotation Marks
What do anthologies, TV shows, magazines, newspapers, vlogs, and podcasts all have in common? They’re all comprised of many smaller parts.
When you’re writing the title of a smaller work, put it in quotation marks. A small work might be:
- A short story, like “The Lottery”
- A poem, like “The Road Not Taken”
- An episode of a TV show, like “The One With the Monkey”
- An article in a magazine or newspaper, like “Obama’s Secret to Surviving the White House Years: Books”
- A song, like “Here Comes the Sun”
- An episode of a vlog, like “Men Running on Tanks and the Truth About Book Editors”
- An episode of a podcast, like “Just What I Wanted”
Other Ways to Indicate Titles
We haven’t always used italics to indicate titles. Before word processing developed italics that were easy to type and easy to read, the titles of larger works were underlined. Since handwriting italics is difficult, underlining the titles of larger works is still an acceptable notation in handwritten documents.
And as our means of communication have continued to evolve, so have our ways of indicating titles. If you’re writing a post on Facebook, for instance, there’s no option to italicize or underline. In situations where neither is an option, many people use ALL CAPS to indicate titles of larger works.
Be Clear and Consistent
Here’s the secret: in the end, all these rules are arbitrary anyway, and different style guides have developed their own nuances for what should and shouldn’t be italicized or put in quotation marks. If you’re writing something formal, remember to double-check your style guide to make sure you’re following their guidelines.
Remember, though, that ultimately, the only purpose for these rules is to help the reader understand what the writer is trying to communicate. Do you italicize book titles? Whatever you’re writing, whether it’s a dissertation or a tweet, be clear and consistent in the way you indicate titles.
If you hold to that rule, no one will be confused.
Are there any kinds of titles you’re not sure how to write? Let us know in the comments.
Your prompt: two friends are discussing their favorite media—books, podcasts, TV shows, etc. Write their conversation using as many titles as you can (and indicating them correctly!).
Pro tip: to italicize a title in the comments, surround the text with the HTML tags <em></em>.
Write for fifteen minutes. When you’re done, share your practice in the comments below, and be sure to leave feedback for your fellow writers!
Alice Sudlow has a keen eye for comma splices, misplaced hyphens, and well-turned sentences, which she puts to good use as the content editor of The Write Practice and Short Fiction Break literary magazine. She loves to help writers hone their craft and take their writing from good to excellent.
This handout provides examples and description about writing papers in literature. It discusses research topics, how to begin to research, how to use information, and formatting.
Contributors:Mark Dollar, Purdue OWL
Last Edited: 2017-10-25 10:18:45
What about MLA format?
All research papers on literature use MLA format, as it is the universal citation method for the field of literary studies. Whenever you use a primary or secondary source, whether you are quoting or paraphrasing, you will make parenthetical citations in the MLA format [Ex. (Smith 67).] Your Works Cited list will be the last page of your essay. Consult the OWL handout on MLA for further instructions.
Note, however, the following minor things about MLA format:
- Titles of books, plays, or works published singularly (not anthologized) should be italicised unless it is a handwritten document, in which case underlining is acceptable. (Ex. Hamlet, Great Expectations)
- Titles of poems, short stories, or works published in an anthology will have quotation marks around them. (Ex. "Ode to a Nightingale," "The Cask of Amontillado")
- All pages in your essay should have your last name the page number in the top right hand corner. (Ex. Jones 12)
If you're using Microsoft Word, you can easily include your name and page number on each page by following the these steps:
- Open "View" (on the top menu).
- Open "Header and Footer." (A box will appear at the top of the page you're on. And a "Header and Footer" menu box will also appear).
- Click on the "align right" button at the top of the screen. (If you're not sure which button it is, hold the mouse over the buttons and a small window should pop up telling you which button you're on.)
- Type in your last name and a space.
- Click on the "#" button which is located on the "Header and Footer" menu box. It will insert the appropriate page number.
- Click "Close" on the "Header and Footer" window.
That's all you need to do. Word will automatically insert your name and the page number on every page of your document.
What else should I remember?
- Don't leave a quote or paraphrase by itself-you must introduce it, explain it, and show how it relates to your thesis.
- Block format all quotations of more than four lines.
- When you quote brief passages of poetry, line and stanza divisions are shown as a slash (Ex. "Roses are red, / Violets are blue / You love me / And I like you").
- For more help, see the OWL handout on using quotes.