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  • Nancy Tuten

    13 October 2019

    Italics or Quotation Marks? Handling Titles of Works

    When we refer to the title of a work, how do we know whether to use italics or quotation marks?

    Italics for Works That Stand Alone

    With some exceptions, most style books tell us to use italics when we write the title of a work that stands alone as a single entity.

    Stand-alone works include books, legal cases, movies, magazines, newspapers, albums, and plays.

    Quotation Marks When the Work is Part of a Stand-Alone Work

    When we refer to the titles of works that appear as part of a collection of works, we set them in Roman type and enclose them in quotation marks.

    Examples of works that typically do not stand alone are articles, poems, short stories, and songs.

    Exceptions to the Rule

    There are a few exceptions:

    • The titles of unpublished manuscripts, such as some doctoral dissertations, should not be italicized, even though they are complete entities.
    • When a single poem is published as a book, as is often done with the long poem “’Twas the Night before Christmas,” for instance, any citation of the title of the book version should be italicized.
    • If a novel, a long poem, or a play is collected in an anthology, we italicize any reference to the title if the work was originally published as a separate entity.

    Italics or Quotation Marks: Why Are We Confused?

    One reason we find these guidelines difficult to remember is that many newspapers enclose book and movie titles in quotation marks.

    Newspaper style, however, is unique to that industry and often differs from the style that governs other professional writing situations. (Read more about the differences among style guides.)

    What about Underlining Titles?

    When we were dependent upon typewriters and were unable to italicize, we underlined instead. Many people still prefer to underline.

    Remember, though, that underlining and italicizing serve the same purpose, so we should avoid using both in a single document. When we have the choice, we should use italics and reserve underlining for those occasions when we are writing by hand or using a typewriter.

    What about When Titles Appear above the Works They Name?

    So far we’ve been discussing how to handle titles when referring to them in writings other than the works to which the titles belong. Actual titles as they appear at the beginning of works should be neither set in italics nor enclosed in quotation marks.

    TEST YOURSELF

    In the following sentences, which titles should be set in italics and which should be enclosed in quotation marks?

    1. Julio read an article titled Making Your Business Profitable in a magazine called Business Today.
    2. The song It’s the End of the World As We Know It appeared on R.E.M.’s 1988 album, Eponymous.
    3. Our local theater staged Shakespeare’s Othello last summer.
    4. The company newsletter, Insider’s Weekly, includes a column called One of Us, which profiles individual employees.
    5. Mr. Davis’s favorite episode of the Andy Griffith Show is Barney Gets His Man.
    6. Robert Frost’s poem Mending Wall first appeared in the collection titled North of Boston.

    ANSWERS

    1. Julio read an article titled “Making Your Business Profitable” in a magazine called Business Today.
    2. The song “It’s the End of the World As We Know It” appeared on R.E.M.’s 1988 album, Eponymous.
    3. Our local theater staged Shakespeare’s Othello last summer.
    4. The company newsletter, Insider’s Weekly, includes a column called “One of Us,” which profiles individual employees.
    5. Mr. Davis’s favorite episode of the Andy Griffith Show is “Barney Gets His Man.”
    6. Robert Frost’s poem “Mending Wall” first appeared in the collection titled North of Boston.

    Note that in sentences 4 and 5, the punctuation is inside the quotation marks. We discuss those rules here. We discuss guidelines for which words to capitalize in titles in this post.

    Copyright 2006 Get It Write. Revised 2019.