It can be confusing to know when you should be using italics and quotation marks in titles. A general rule to go by is that short titles and sections of works, such as a chapter title in a book or an episode of a TV show, use quotation marks, while larger titles or works, such as the name of a book or an album, are italicized. However, it may depend on the style of writing you’re following, so let’s take a closer look at different formats.
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 book title was, or even that there was a book title at all.
So, italics and quotation marks make a 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.
There are several different writing style guides:
Each of the style guides have their own rules when it comes to formatting titles, although many overlap. AP is one of the simpler styles to remember, as it doesn’t use italics in composition titles at all.
All formats except AP recommend the following titles should be in italics:
All formats except APA recommend that the following titles should be placed in quotation marks:
APA differs from other formats in that it doesn’t use quotation marks or italics for titles of shorter works, such as essays that are in collections, lectures, or journal articles. These shorter works are simply formatted in regular type.
MLA and Chicago agree on most citation styles, but do diverge on some points:
There are certain titles of things that all style guides agree should not be in italics or quotation marks. These titles should always be set in regular type:
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 considered the same as writing a title in italics.
When formatting titles for the web, be aware that it is acceptable to 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 a title stand out without looking clunky in order to get more attention.
By practicing the above rules for using italics and quotation marks in titles, you’ll find it becomes easier with practice. If you’re uncertain about what to use, ask yourself if the title of the 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.
Above all else, consistency is key. Be sure to follow whichever style is most appropriate and stick to it. As you’re writing out titles, learn more about which words should be capitalized with Rules for Capitalization in Titles. You’ll be well on your way to citation mastery!