Titles of Works: Italics vs. Quotation Marks

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  • Nancy Tuten

    9 April 2017

    Titles of Works: Italics vs. Quotation Marks

    When we make reference to the title of a work, how do we know whether to italicize the title or enclose it in quotation marks?

    Generally speaking, when we cite the title of a work that stands alone as a single entity—such as a book, movie, magazine, newspaper, album, or play—we should use italics. When we refer to the titles of works that appear inside those larger entities—such as articles, poems, short stories, and songs—we should enclose them in quotation marks.

    Of course, there are a few exceptions. The titles of unpublished manuscripts, such as some doctoral dissertations for example, should not be italicized, despite the fact that they are complete entities. In contrast, 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. And if a novel, a long poem, or a play is collected in a particular anthology, we italicize any reference to the title if originally the work was published as a separate entity.

    One reason we find these guidelines difficult to remember is that many newspapers persist in putting book and movie titles in quotation marks. Newspaper style, however, is unique to that industry and often does not reflect the style we should use in other professional writing situations.

    When we were dependent upon typewriters and were thus unable to italicize, we underlined instead. Many people still prefer to underline. Remember, though, that underlining and italicizing serve exactly the same purpose, so we should avoid using both in a single document. When have the choice, we should use italics and reserve underlining for those occasions when we are writing by hand or using a typewriter.

    One final note: we have 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 entitled Making Your Business Profitable in a publication 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.
    ANSWERS
    1. Julio read an article entitled “Making Your Business Profitable” in a publication 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.”

    Note that in sentences 4 and 5, the punctuation is inside the quotation marks. We discuss those rules here. We discuss guidelines for capitalizing some words and not others in titles in this post.