How do I handle book titles in my work? Do I underline them? Italicize them? Put them in quotes? —Bryan F.
This is one of those pesky questions that comes up all the time: Should I underline or italicize book titles in my writing? And it comes up for good reason: You can look at several different books, newspapers or magazine articles and see it handled several different ways. So which one is right?
The answer is: Probably all of them.
How you handle book titles in your work is a style choice not governed by grammarian law. The issue is addressed by the top stylebooks, but the answers vary.
According to the Chicago Manual of Style and the Modern Language Association, titles of books (and other complete works, such as newspapers and magazines), should be italicized. So if abiding by either of those guides, you’d italicize Stephen King’s The Shining, just as you would Vanity Fair and The Miami Herald (and Appetite for Destruction, if your protagonist is a Guns N’ Roses fan).
On the flip side, the AP Stylebook suggests that you use quotation marks around the names of books (with the exceptions of the Bible and catalogs of reference material, such as dictionaries and almanacs, which should not be styled in any way). So if you’re writing for a publication that adheres to AP guidelines, reference books with friendly quotation marks: “Eat, Pray, Love,” “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows” and “Bossypants” (have I ever mentioned how much I love Tina Fey?).
Debunking 10 Grammar (and Novel Writing) Myths
Some publications also follow their own style guides. Here at WD, for instance, we generally follow the AP Stylebook. But, as you can see if you peruse this issue, we break from it on this topic and italicize book titles. That’s our preferred house style.
So what does this mean for you? It means: Don’t worry about it too much. Just pick one way and stick with it for consistency purposes (for example, if you italicize the name of the book your character is reading on page one of your novel, make sure you italicize it on page 214, too). All publishers have their own style, so if you’re fortunate enough to get the work in question published, an editor will edit your story to fit her style preferences anyway. Your goal is to turn in a professional-looking manuscript, and consistency in your style is one key way to do that.
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Brian A. Klems is the editor of this blog, online editor of Writer’s Digest and author of the popular gift bookOh Boy, You’re Having a Girl: A Dad’s Survival Guide to Raising Daughters.
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Properly Punctuating Titles
Properly punctuating titles of literature, music, art, movies, and other works can be confusing, and the rules aren’t always consistent from resource to resource regarding this topic. Also, since mistakes are prevalent, we are so used to seeing the wrong punctuation that it actually looks right!
Here are some helpful hints on how to properly punctuate titles using capitalization, italics, underlining, and quotation marks.
Step 1, Capitalize Titles Correctly!
Although rules regarding correct title capitalization vary greatly, here are a few pointers to stand by: Capitalize the first and last word in a title and every word in the title except articles and prepositions. Some suggest capitalizing prepositions five letters or more in length, and I agree with this simply because it looks better (hence, my business name is All About Writing instead of All about Writing).
Capitalizing involves only the first letter of the word, of course.
When to Use Italics: Titles of Larger Works
Italics indicate the title of a major or larger work. Use italics for titles such as books, novels, magazines, journals, newspapers, and book-length poems, collections and anthologies; CDs, albums, ballets, operas, and longer, classical music compositions; television series, plays, movies, and films; video games; websites; and works of art and art exhibits.
Just remember, the title of any piece that stands alone as a single, unified work should be italicized.
What About Underlining?
In general, underlining and italics are used interchangeably, so the above rules for italics also apply for underlining.
However, when using the computer or typing, italics should always be used. Underlining should replace italics in handwritten projects only, as who has mastered the art of writing in italics so that it is legible and noticeable?
When to Use Quotation Marks: Titles of Smaller Works
Since quotation marks are tiny, you can remember that they are used for smaller works within the larger work or collection. Use quotation marks for titles of poems, short stories, book chapters, and articles in journals, magazines, and newspapers; and songs, single television episodes, and commercials.
It is important to be consistent throughout your writing with properly using italics versus quotation marks. Writing handbooks (Chicago Manual of Style, MLA, APA, and many others) vary in their rules for capitalizing and punctuating titles. Certain writing projects mandate using one writing handbook’s format over the others, so for academic work, please check with your professor as to the preferred handbook to use for your writing, citation, and punctuation guidelines.
Schedule Your Free Consultation
Remember, All About Writing is here to help with writing, editing and proofreading. We can see you through your writing project, start to finish, and we never mind providing advice when writing questions arise. As always, all of our services offer a free, half-hour, in-person consultation in the Howell area to address any questions or concerns about your project.
Learn more about All About Writing and owner Christa Riddle at www.allaboutwritingconsulting.com. Remember, with All About Writing, writing help is just a call or click away! Call us today to schedule your free consultation and get your project underway. We are here to assist with any phase of the project.
-by Christa Riddle