It can be confusing to know which titles get italicized and which get quotation marks when citing them in your writing. An easy rule to remember is that short titles and sections of work, such as a chapter title in a book or an episode in a TV show, get quotation marks while larger titles or works, such as a book title or an album, are italicized. However, which one you use may depend on the style and format of writing you are following.
Why Use Italics and Quotation Marks in Titles?
Italics and quotation marks are generally used to set a composition title apart from the text surrounding it. For example, if you were writing the sentence "I read The Cat in the Hat," it wouldn't necessarily be clear what the title was, or even that there was a title at all.
So, italics and quotation marks make the title stand out. A sentence such as "I read The Cat in the Hat" or "I read "The Cat in the Hat" today" is a lot clearer.
Should you set off a title with italics or should you set it off with quotation marks? Well, there are rules for that.
Rules for Using Italics and Quotation Marks in Titles
There are several different writing style guides: The Modern Language Association (MLA) is the style generally used in arts and humanities papers; the American Psychological Association (APA) is used for social sciences; the Associated Press Stylebook (AP) is commonly used in magazines, newspapers and the internet; and the Chicago Manual of Style (Chicago), one of the most well-known formats, is followed in a wide variety of disciplines from publishing to science.
Each of the style guides have their own rules when it comes to formatting titles. AP style is one of the simpler styles to remember, as it does not use italics in composition titles at all.
All formats except AP recommend the following titles should be in italics:
- Ballets, Operas, Symphonies
- Comic strips
- Exhibitions at a museum
- Aircraft and spacecraft
All formats except APA recommend that the following titles should be in quotation marks:
- Book chapters
- Names of video games
- Single episodes of TV and radio shows
- Unpublished writing such as manuscripts or lectures
- Album tracks or singles
- Podcast episodes
- Short stories and poems
APA differs from other formats in that it does not use either quotation marks or italics for titles of shorter works, such as essays that are in collections, lectures or journal articles. These shorter works are formatted in regular type.
MLA and Chicago, while agreeing on most citation styles, diverge on some points. In MLA the titles of online databases should be italicized; Chicago style says to set those in regular type. MLA says that all websites should be italicized while Chicago style says they should be in regular type.
When Not to Use Italics or Quotation Marks
There are certain titles of things that should not be in italics or quotation marks. The following titles should always be set in regular type:
- Scriptures of major religions
- Constitutional documents
- Legal documents
- Traditional games (such as football, hopscotch or blackjack)
- Commercial products (such as Cocoa Puffs)
- Political documents
- Names of artifacts
- Names of buildings
Print and Online Style Differences
Italicizing is easy to do on the computer, but not practical when you are hand writing something. In such cases, underlining is still used and is the same as writing a title in italics.
When formatting titles for the web, be aware that you should go with whatever style is most visually appealing. Online formats tend to be less formal in style compared to print materials. Styling for the web is about attracting visitors to the site so make the title stand out without looking clunky in order to get more attention.
Determine What to Use
By practicing the above rules for using italics and quotation marks you will find that it will become easier to determine what you should use. If you are uncertain about what to use, ask yourself if the title of a work appears inside a larger body of work or if it can stand alone. If the title belongs inside a larger body of work, use quotation marks. If the title is for a body of work that stands alone, it should be in italics. And remember that consistency is key, whichever style you choose.
To learn about which words should be capitalized in a title read YourDictionary's article on Rules for Capitalization in Titles.
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Using Italics and Quotation Marks in Titles
By YourDictionaryIt can be confusing to know which titles get italicized and which get quotation marks when citing them in your writing. An easy rule to remember is that short titles and sections of work, such as a chapter title in a book or an episode in a TV show, get quotation marks while larger titles or works, such as a book title or an album, are italicized. However, which one you use may depend on the style and format of writing you are following.
Italics and Underlining
Italics and underlining are like flashers on road signs. They make you take notice. Italics and underlining can be used interchangeably, although usually underlining is used when something is either hand written or typed; if using a computer you can italicize. If you start using italics, don't switch to underlining within the same document.
Italics or underlining are used most often: for titles of longer works: books, magazines, newspapers, films, TV shows, a complete symphony, plays, long poems, albums:
Albert Borgmann's book, Crossing the Postmodern Divide
the TV show Frasier
the film It Happened One Night
the magazine Adirondack Life
the Beatles album Abbey Road
Italics or underlining are also used for titles of paintings, sculptures, ships, trains, aircraft, and spacecraft:
Van Gogh's painting Starry Night
Daniel Chester French's sculpture The Spirit of Life
Tip: Shorter works, such a book chapters, articles, sections of newspapers, short stories, poems, songs, and TV episodes are placed in quotation marks.
Neither italics nor quotation marks are used with titles of major religious texts, books of the Bible, or classic legal documents:
the Bible Pentateuch the Koran the Declaration of Independence
Use italics or underlining when using words from another language:
Yggdrasil avatar Yahweh sabra
Tip: Many foreign words have become absorbed into our language and should not be italicized or underlined. When in doubt, consult the dictionary. Also, common Latin abbreviations should not be italicized or underlined:
etc. i.e. p.s. viz.
Use italics or underlining to emphasize, stress, or clarify a word or letter in a sentence or when using a word as a linguistic symbol rather than for its meaning:
It was the first time I felt appreciated by my children.
I asked you to articulate your findings, not create a flow chart.
He claimed his data to be accurate, but accurate is a word he often interprets loosely. My daughter's report card showed five B's, two B+'s and one glorious A.