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.
Follow Brian on Twitter: @BrianKlems
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Formatting titles gives some writers a headache. Should the title of songs, stories, movies, books, screenplays, etc. be in italics or quotes? When you’re trying to remember if you’re supposed to use underlining or italics or quotation marks for titles, here are a few simple rules from Writer’s Relief.
Remember that people used to type their work or write it longhand. When titles needed to be italicized, italics were represented by underlining. These days, many people avoid underlining to minimize confusion between words that are underlined and hyperlinks.
1) Underlining and italics serve the same purpose. Never do both. Do NOT use quotation marks, underline, or italics together.
2) For any work that stands on its own, you should use italics or underline. (Stories or chapters from within a book are considered PARTS of the book.)
3) A work that is part of a larger work goes in quotation marks.
4) No quotation marks around titles of your own composition.
Books: Italics or Underline
CDs: Italics or Underline
Articles (Newspaper or Magazine): Quotation Marks
Chapter Titles (not chapter numbers): Quotation Marks
Magazines, Newspapers, Journals: Italics or Underline
Names of Ships, Trains, Airplanes, Spacecraft: Italics
Poems: Quotation Marks
Poems (Long): Underlined or Italics
Short Stories: Quotation Marks
Song Titles: Quotation Marks
Special Phrases (“let them eat cake”), Words, or Sentences: Quotation Marks
Television Shows and Movies: Italics
Television and Radio Episode Titles: Quotation Marks
Knowing when to use quotes, italics, or underlining can be difficult. Writer’s Relief proofreaders can help you proofread your creative writing submissions to be sure your titles are properly formatted.
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