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?).
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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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Titles: Underline, Italics, or Quotations?
(printable version here)
When writing about other works, it's hard to decide when to underline (or place in italics) a title and when to place it in double quotations. Note that some publications have a "house style" that must be followed. When in doubt, however, these guidelines from the Modern Language Association may help:
For titles of written or musical works that are published within other works use double quotations; underline or italicize names of works published by themselves:
ex. I just read the short story "Looking for Jake" in China Miéville's anthology of the same name, Looking for Jake.
ex. Beckett's play Waiting for Godot will be performed next season.
ex. Devo's second album, Duty Now for the Future, has one of my favorite songs, "Swelling Itching Brain."
ex. Yes, I went to a science-fiction convention. I really enjoy the original Star Trek TV series, especially the episode "Return of the Archons," and the first three Star Wars films, especially The Empire Strikes Back, okay?
ex. I read the story "All about the Bronx" in the city section of today's New York Times.
ex. I have subscribed to my favorite magazine, The Atlantic, for many years.
For names of artwork, always use italics or underlining:
ex. We have a copy of Edward Hopper's painting Nighthawks in the Writing Center lobby. I always think about it when I'm listening to Tom Wait's CD Nighthawks at the Diner.
For the names of famous aircraft, ships, and spacecraft, always use italics or underlining:
ex. I built scale models of the USS Nimitz and the space shuttle Discovery last year.
ex. The Bible, Book of Exodus, or Qu'ran do not get underlined in the text of a paper. A specific edition would, however, be underlined in a works-cited list. Their titles are capitalized.
Back to 'Sentence Structure and Mechanics', 'Punctuation', or 'Using Sources'
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