Titles: Italics or Quotation Marks image

As a writer, you know that titles are distinguished from surrounding text with italics and quotation marks. What you may not know, however, is when to use which one.

Let’s clear up the mystery.

Italics

Titles of large, stand-alone works such as books, plays, newspapers, magazines, movies, and epic poems are italicized.

  • Have you watched the movie Shutter Island?
  • Homeless Bird won a National Book Award in 2000.
  • Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet is a classic tragedy.
  • “It must be true,” she said. “I read it in the New York Times.”
  • I read Dante’s three-part poem The Divine Comedy in my medieval literature class.

Books or movies that are part of a series are also italicized; the series title appears in roman type, however.

  • My favorite book series is A Song of Ice and Fire. I’ve read A Game of Thrones many times but have yet to enjoy A Storm of Swords.
  • My favorite movie in the Lord of the Rings series is Return of the King.

Quotation marks

Shorter works such as poems, articles, short stories, songs, and chapter titles are enclosed in quotation marks. Notice that when the title falls at the end of the sentence, the period is placed inside the closing quotation mark.

  • We were required to read Edgar Allan Poe’s short story “The Tell-Tale Heart.”
  • My favorite episode of Friends is “The One with Phoebe’s Rats.”
  • “Look What You Made Me Do” is the most popular song from Taylor Swift’s Reputation album.
  • My favorite chapter in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is “The Vanishing Glass.

When a title that should be enclosed in quotation marks appear in dialogue, use single quotation marks for the title. If the title appears at the end of the quotation, place the closing double quotation marks immediately after the single.

  • “Once I read Keats’s ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn,’ I understood why it’s considered his greatest poem,” she said.
  • “It’s very clear,” the teacher said, “that you haven’t read Thomas Paine’s famous pamphlet ‘Common Sense.'”

Titles with punctuation

If a title contains punctuation, include it in the italics or quotation marks.

  • I think Airplane! is the funniest movie ever.
  • “Art Thou the Thing I Wanted?” is a poem by Emily Dickinson.

Other titles

Websites with no print counterpart are capitalized in title case and set in roman type.

  • I always find great recipes on Epicurious.
  • Google revolutionized research and learning.

Websites with print counterparts are italicized.

  • I found the answer in Britannica Online.
  • I read the obituary in the New York Times online edition.

The names of ships and other vehicles, paintings, and record albums are italicized.

  • She sailed on the doomed RMS Titanic.
  • The Enterprise and Discovery are two of NASA’s space shuttles.
  • The best-selling album of all time is Their Greatest Hits (1971–1975), by the Eagles.
  • The Mona Lisa is da Vinci’s most famous painting.

For more information

The rules and examples shown here cover the basics of title formatting. Consult a style guide for more details. TCK recommends the Chicago Manual of Style.

Please share your thoughts or ask a question in the comment section below.

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Tom Corson-Knowles is the founder of TCK Publishing, and the bestselling author of 27 books including Secrets of the Six-Figure author. He is also the host of the Publishing Profits Podcast show where we interview successful authors and publishing industry experts to share their tips for creating a successful writing career.