Have you read “Italics and Underlining: Titles of Books,” an article we published on TheWordCounter.comin May?
Take a look at the previous sentence. In it, we’ve made use of the Modern Language Association’s guidelines for writing titles. Because the article is a part of a whole, meaning it’s a small part of a larger website, its title should be put in quotation marks. The larger work, the website, must be italicized.
To take a step back, it’s important to understand that many different style guides exist, and they all give advice about how to format your writing, address grammar concerns, and provide information about the source material you use. Within the context of academic writing, often a teacher will give an assignment and specify which style guide you should use. Similarly—if you’re planning to publish your writing—journals, publishing companies, and editors may have strong preferences about formatting. At other times, you may be able to select a style guide based on your own preferences.
For the purpose of this article, let’s assume that you’ve been assigned (or have chosen to write) a short essay in MLA format. If that’s the case, what do you need to know about writing titles?
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To begin, you’ll need to include a Works Cited section for your essay, as long as you have source material that you’re planning to quote or paraphrase. Let’s begin by looking at a standard citation for a book in MLA format.
Last Name, First Name. Title of Book. Publisher, Publication Date.
Notice that the title of the book is italicized.
You would also use italics for other forms of media cited in their entirety:
When you write the title, remember that the rules for capitalizing can be tricky. For MLA, title case requires that you capitalize the first word of the title and any subtitles, capitalize all principal words (nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, and pronouns), and capitalize all the words that contain four letters or more. If you use a hyphenated word, be sure to capitalize the second part that comes after the hyphen. When the title has a subtitle, be sure to include a colon and a space between the main title and the subtitle.
To review, here are a few fictional titles, along with the proper title case for MLA style:
New York in the Spring: A Guide to Snacking
Hot-Headedness and Anger From a Toddler’s Perspective
The Unofficial Grammar Bible
For an in-text citation, you would simply follow your quotation or paraphrase with a parenthetical notation. Provide the reader with the author’s last name and the page number. This way, if the reader wants to review the source material that you used, he or she can find the book in the Works Cited section of your essay, and then look at the referenced page directly.
When you use a parenthetical citation in this manner, you do not necessarily need to write the title of the book in your prose. That said, it is common to include the title of the book in your research paper or essay, especially the first time you refer to the book, in order to provide additional context for the quotation or paraphrase. If you include the author’s name in your prose, there is no need to repeat it in the in-text citation.
Here are examples of both styles of in-text citation.
As Rick Hawthorne explains in Coordinating Conjunctions for Fun, “Grammar can be amazing” (75).
According to a prominent linguistics professor, “Grammar can be amazing” (Hawthorne 75).
In the examples above, you can see that including the title of the book may add context, but it is not necessary when you provide the in-text citation. If you choose to include the title, you should use the same title case and formatting that you use in the Works Cited section of your paper.
What Titles Need Quotation Marks?
As a general rule, the titles that require quotation marks involve a partial work. For example, a chapter in a book only makes up part of a larger work.
Based on the MLA handbook, we’ve created a list of media that fits into the “part of a whole” classification. Next to those titles, we’ve listed examples of the complete works, written in all capital letters.
Book chapters | BOOK TITLE
Web pages | WEBSITE NAME
News, magazine, and journal articles | NEWSPAPER, MAGAZINE, or JOURNAL TITLE
TV episodes | TV SHOW TITLE
Songs | ALBUM TITLE
Short stories | ANTHOLOGY TITLE
Poems | ANTHOLOGY TITLE
Online videos | WEBSITE NAME
Of the items in the list above, the first set of titles should be written within a pair of quotation marks. The capitalized set of titles should be written with italics.
There are a few situations that necessitate special rules.
When a work has no author, the title should be used in the place of the author’s last name for the in-text citation. Do not include subtitles in the in-text citation. If the full title is long, you may abbreviate it by dropping articles and prepositions, but you must maintain the first word as it’s alphabetized in your Works Cited.
When you quote or paraphrase from a chapter in an anthology or reference book, be sure to include the chapter title in your Works Cited list, between the author’s name and the name of the full work.
Add the English translation of a foreign-language title in brackets in your Works Cited, and add it in parentheses in your prose.
Although the following words and phrases describe parts of a work, they should not be confused with unique titles: preface, introduction, works cited, appendix, scene, stanza, chapter, bibliography, act, index. Since they are not titles, section names do not need to be put in quotations.
Musical compositions, laws, and religious scripture do not receive the same treatment as other titles. When in doubt, refer to the Modern Language Association for special exceptions.
When you come across a title within a title, use quotation marks or italics as normal. Quotes within quotes employ single quotes, and italics within italics revert back to non-italicized text. For example, if you have the title of a poem that appears within the title of a chapter, you would use single quotation marks within double quotation marks: “Understanding Whitman’s ‘Song of Myself'”.
For a title that ends in a question mark, there’s no need to add a colon before the subtitle.
According to the 8th edition of the MLA guidelines, you no longer need to include the city of publication for books published after 1900. For an older book, your citation should include that information.
I’m an award-winning playwright with a penchant for wordplay. After earning a perfect score on the Writing SAT, I worked my way through Brown University by moonlighting as a Kaplan Test Prep tutor. I received a BA with honors in Literary Arts (Playwriting)—which gave me the opportunity to study under Pulitzer Prize-winner Paula Vogel. In my previous roles as new media producer with Rosetta Stone, director of marketing for global ventures with The Juilliard School, and vice president of digital strategy with Up & Coming Media, I helped develop the voice for international brands. From my home office in Maui, Hawaii, I currently work on freelance and ghostwriting projects.