Formatting titles gives some writers a headache. Should the title of songs, stories, movies, books, screenplays, etc. be in italics or quotes? When you’re trying to remember if you’re supposed to use underlining or italics or quotation marks for titles, here are a few simple rules from Writer’s Relief.
Remember that people used to type their work or write it longhand. When titles needed to be italicized, italics were represented by underlining. These days, many people avoid underlining to minimize confusion between words that are underlined and hyperlinks.
1) Underlining and italics serve the same purpose. Never do both. Do NOT use quotation marks, underline, or italics together.
2) For any work that stands on its own, you should use italics or underline. (Stories or chapters from within a book are considered PARTS of the book.)
3) A work that is part of a larger work goes in quotation marks.
4) No quotation marks around titles of your own composition.
Books: Italics or Underline
CDs: Italics or Underline
Articles (Newspaper or Magazine): Quotation Marks
Chapter Titles (not chapter numbers): Quotation Marks
Magazines, Newspapers, Journals: Italics or Underline
Names of Ships, Trains, Airplanes, Spacecraft: Italics
Poems: Quotation Marks
Poems (Long): Underlined or Italics
Short Stories: Quotation Marks
Song Titles: Quotation Marks
Special Phrases (“let them eat cake”), Words, or Sentences: Quotation Marks
Television Shows and Movies: Italics
Television and Radio Episode Titles: Quotation Marks
Knowing when to use quotes, italics, or underlining can be difficult. Writer’s Relief proofreaders can help you proofread your creative writing submissions to be sure your titles are properly formatted.
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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.