Quotation Marks or Italics In Titles?


You’ve probably asked yourself while writing an essay: Should I italicize a play title or enclose it in quotation marks? What about a song title?

Don’t feel guilty for not knowing the rules for quotation marks or italics in titles. Even the most experienced writers have the same problem.

I’ll show you the basic rules for choosing between quotation marks and italics in titles. This guide features the guidelines of Chicago, MLA, and APA.

Using Italics or Quotation Marks in Titles

Using italics vs. quotation marks in titles depends on your style guide. But the general rule is to italicize long titles, such as titles of books, movie titles, or album titles.

Meanwhile, you must write titles in quotation marks for shorter pieces like musical titles, magazines, TV series, and articles. Note that the AP style does not put magazines, newspaper style, or journals in quotation marks.

Examples:

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  • “How You Feel About Gender Roles Will Tell Us How You’ll Vote” is an article worth the read.
  • My favorite song is “If I could Fly.”
  • My Year of Rest and Relaxation is for readers who want to escape their stressful lives.

Works That Require Italics

Use Italics for titles such as the following:

  • Pieces with sections, such as a collection or anthology.
  • Some scientific names.
  • Computers and video games.
  • Titles of newspapers and titles of articles from newspapers.
  • Play titles.
  • Works of art.
  • Movies.
  • Court cases.
  • Television and radio shows.
  • Episode titles.
  • Book titles.
  • Magazine articles.
  • Album titles.
  • Names of Ships.
  • Airplanes.
  • Trains.
  • Operas, musical titles, and other musical works.

Here are some examples of italicized works:

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  • Mona Lisa.
  • The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo.
  • Michelangelo’s David.
  • When Harry Met Sally.
  • In Time.
  • Cats.
  • Do you have a copy of Wag the Dog by award-winning author Larry Beinhart?
  • My favorite mystery book is In the Woods by the bestselling author Tana French.

The source’s title is usually italicized in a bibliography or reference list entries. But it can also depend on the source type. If you’re citing a journal article, every citation style italicizes the journal title instead of the article.

Examples:

  • Asher, J. (2017). Thirteen reasons why. Penguin Books.
  • (2011). When Harry met Sally. Santa Monica, Calif: MGM Studio distributed by Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment.

Works That Require Quotation Marks

Use double quotes for the following types of work.

  • Comic strips.
  • Article title.
  • Generic titles.
  • Short works like essays
  • Parts or sections of complete works like:
    • Short story titles.
    • Song titles.
    • Poems.

Remember that quotation marks come in pairs, so add both opening and closing quotation marks. Here are some examples where we use friendly quotation marks in titles:

  • “Cul de Sac” is a darkly humorous comic.
  • “Cinderella” is my favorite chapter title from the Big Blue Book.

Big Things vs. Little Things

“Big things” include a collection of novels or book series, movies, cartoon series, and other works that can stand independently. We can also consider them as complete bodies of work.

Meanwhile, the “little things” depend on other groups, so we put them in quotes.

Think of a “single” in an album title or a “book chapter” in a book title. Another good example includes “manuscripts” in collections.

Remember that this isn’t a perfect rule. But it helps writers determine whether they should quote or italicize the title of a work.

Italics vs. Quotation Marks in Style Guides

The grammar rules on italicizing or quoting titles are usually a matter of style. Take a look at the title formats’ differences among style guides.

MLA Style

In the Modern Language Association style guide, a quick rule is to italicize titles that are longer. Experienced writers state that these “longer works” include books, journals, court cases, etc. Ship names and other notable names are also in italics.

But for shorter works like articles and poems, MLA Style Guide recommends you format titles with double quotation marks.

Chicago Style

The Chicago Manual of Style goes by the same basic rules as MLA. Titles of major works, such as books, and special names like a ship should be in italics. But place the item in quotation marks for subsections of larger bodies like journal articles, blogs, and book chapters.

APA Style

According to the APA Style 7th edition, you should use italics for titles like journals, magazines, and newspapers. Books, artworks, webpages, and any other larger body of work also use italics.

However, writers who follow APA use the regular type of format for shorter works. These include essays or works in journal articles and lectures.

When to Not Use Italics or Quotation Marks

There’s a specific type of title that all major style guides have no recommendations for. The following do not use italics or quotation marks for titles:

  • Commercial products.
  • Political documents.
  • Awards.
  • Legal documents.
  • Major religious books or scriptures.
  • Name of artifacts.
  • Names of buildings.
  • Constitutional documents.
  • Software.
  • Traditional game.

If you are formatting titles on a website, there’s no need to follow the rules on italics vs. quotation marks. You can go with any more visually appealing style since online web pages are less formal than print materials.

Prioritize the font type, size, and headings when formatting websites and web pages. Make decisions based on what will attract visitors.

When to Underline Instead of Quote or Italicize

If you write using pen and paper, italicizing works can be challenging. Many style manuals recommend underlining the source instead. It’s easier, more practical, and keeps your handwriting legible.

Final Word on Italics vs. Quotes in Titles

An easy way to remember is that most types of titles are almost always in italics. APA, MLA, and Chicago manuals of style recommend italics for longer works.

I hope this guide on using quotation marks and italics in titles helps you become a better writer. 



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