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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Which Titles Are Italicized and Which Are Enclosed in Quotation Marks?
by Tina Blue
January 4, 2001
NOTE:The title of an article or essay is not enclosed in quotation marks, italicized or underlined at the top of the page. The reason for punctuating a title that occurs in a body of prose is to set it off and to identify it as a title. When the title of an article or an essay appears over the article, its position is sufficient to identify it as the title.
~Italics are used primarily to punctuate the titles of full-length works that are published separately. There are also a couple of specialized uses for italics with titles.
2. The titles of works that include shorter works are italicized. This includes anthologies and collections of songs, poems, short stories, short plays, and essays.
3. The titles of newspapers and magazines are italicized.
4. Technically, the titles of movies and television shows should be italicized, because individual scenes and episodes may have their own titles, which would be enclosed in quotation marks. The influence of newspaper reviewers, however, has undermined this principle, so you are likely to find the titles of movies and television shows enclosed in quotation marks.
5. The names of ships, trains, airplanes and spacecraft are italicized, but not H.M.S. or U.S.S.:
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