Titles of Works: Italics or Quotation Marks?

By Carly Forsaith, updated on March 8, 2023

How should you emphasize the titles of works? When you're citing works in your writing, is there a particular format to follow? When should you use italics, and when should it be quotation marks? By the end of this article, you'll have all the answers you need.

But if you just want the short version, then it's usually advised that you italicize collections of works and use quotation marks for shorter pieces or items that are contained within a larger collection.

How to Emphasize Titles of Works

The thing about how to format titles of works in your writing is that grammar rules do not govern this. It's actually down to whichever style guide you're using.

That's why the best course of action will always be to check which one your university or place of work uses. Or, if you write for yourself, go ahead and pick one. There are plenty to choose from! Here are some of the most used ones:

  • The Chicago Manual of Style
  • AP Stylebook
  • APA Style
  • MLA Handbook
  • The New York Times Manual

And there are many others.

But overall, and is often the case with matters of personal choice, the most important thing is to stay consistent.

So, say you don't follow a particular style guide and decide for yourself which format you'll use. That would be absolutely fine, as long as you make sure to stay consistent with that formatting - not just throughout your text but throughout all your writing.

This will increase your credibility as a writer and ensure your readers always know what you're referring to.

Having said that, I'm going to outline the most common practices in terms of italicizing and using quotation marks.

Before I start, I want to mention that these guidelines apply to titles quoted throughout your text. If you're writing a title at the top of your document or on a cover page (or basically any place where it stands alone and is not incorporated into the main body), you won't need to use italics or quotation marks. You'll just need to refer to your style guide's capitalization rules.

When to Put Titles in Italics

Italics tend to be used for titles of works that contain different parts. So, for example, a music album should be italicized because it includes numerous tracks. The tracks themselves should be put in quotation marks, but more on that later.

Here are some examples of works you would italicize:

  • Academic journals
  • Books
  • Ballets
  • Plays
  • Podcasts

But there's another piece to take into account. Most style guides also recommend that you italicize longer works. I think this can be unclear because it's pretty subjective. For instance, they count movie and cartoon titles as longer works, as well as museum exhibits.

Again, the best thing to do if you want to be one hundred percent sure is to consult the style guide. Otherwise, feel free to decide what you think consists of a longer work.

When to Put Titles in Quotation Marks

Shorter works and works that are part of a larger whole tend to be put in quotation marks. As I mentioned earlier, song titles would be set in quotation marks because they are part of an album.

Here are some more examples of works you would use quotation marks for:

  • Specific articles in academic journals
  • Book chapters
  • Scenes or acts
  • Podcast episodes
  • Poems
  • Short stories
  • TV show episodes
  • Speeches

And again, we have the same conundrum as before, whereby the term 'shorter works' is used to refer to titles that require quotation marks. But again, it isn't always obvious what constitutes shorter works. For example, unpublished writings are considered by the style guides to be shorter works.

How to Punctuate Titles

A question that often comes up is how to punctuate titles or how to format the existing punctuation.

This is pretty straightforward. If the title contains punctuation, include it when citing it.

And format the title's punctuation in the same way as the rest of the title. For example, if it's a book title and contains a question mark, it should also be italicized.

Here's an example to illustrate the above points:

Let's listen to "How Deep is Your Love?".

Examples of Titles of Works

I'm going to list some examples of sentences that cite titles of works in both types of formatting.

Usually, at writingtips.org, we use italics to make our examples stand out, but to avoid confusion, I'll write them in standard text for this article.

Examples of Italicized Titles

I just watched The Color Purple, and I'm blown away.

When you've finished The Great Gatsby, can I read it?

They're going to see Hamilton for their anniversary.

Examples of Titles in Quotation Marks

She thinks the best song on the album is "I Choose You."

I've only just released my latest podcast episode, "Living in the Present." I don't know if anyone has heard it yet.

Their favorite speech is Virginia Woolf's "A Room of One's Own."

Examples of Both

The article "The Construction of "Critical Thinking" was published in History of Psychology.

Concluding Thoughts on Emphasizing Titles of Works

That should cover it. I believe you now have all the tools you need to decide how to format titles in your writing. Let's summarize the good rules of practice we learned:

  • Italicize longer pieces of work and those than can be broken down into smaller parts.
  • Use quotation marks for shorter pieces and those that are part of a greater whole.
  • Include the title's punctuation within the italics or quotation marks.
  • Consistency is key.

If you found this article helpful and would like to learn more ways to improve your writing and grammar, visit our Grammar Rules blog.

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Written By:
Carly Forsaith
Carly Forsaith is one of the lead freelance writers for WritingTips.org. Carly is a copywriter who has been writing about the English language for over 3 years. Before that, she was a teacher in Thailand, helping people learn English as a second language. She is a total grammar nerd and spends her time spotting language errors on signs and on the internet.

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