Put Book Title Into Essay

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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Formatting

Summary:

This handout provides examples and description about writing papers in literature. It discusses research topics, how to begin to research, how to use information, and formatting.

Contributors:Mark Dollar, Purdue OWL
Last Edited: 2017-10-25 10:18:45

What about MLA format?

All research papers on literature use MLA format, as it is the universal citation method for the field of literary studies. Whenever you use a primary or secondary source, whether you are quoting or paraphrasing, you will make parenthetical citations in the MLA format [Ex. (Smith 67).] Your Works Cited list will be the last page of your essay. Consult the OWL handout on MLA for further instructions.

Note, however, the following minor things about MLA format:

  • Titles of books, plays, or works published singularly (not anthologized) should be italicised unless it is a handwritten document, in which case underlining is acceptable. (Ex. Hamlet, Great Expectations)
  • Titles of poems, short stories, or works published in an anthology will have quotation marks around them. (Ex. "Ode to a Nightingale," "The Cask of Amontillado")
  • All pages in your essay should have your last name the page number in the top right hand corner. (Ex. Jones 12)
    Tip

    If you're using Microsoft Word, you can easily include your name and page number on each page by following the these steps:

    1. Open "View" (on the top menu).
    2. Open "Header and Footer." (A box will appear at the top of the page you're on. And a "Header and Footer" menu box will also appear).
    3. Click on the "align right" button at the top of the screen. (If you're not sure which button it is, hold the mouse over the buttons and a small window should pop up telling you which button you're on.)
    4. Type in your last name and a space.
    5. Click on the "#" button which is located on the "Header and Footer" menu box. It will insert the appropriate page number.
    6. Click "Close" on the "Header and Footer" window.

    That's all you need to do. Word will automatically insert your name and the page number on every page of your document.

What else should I remember?

  • Don't leave a quote or paraphrase by itself-you must introduce it, explain it, and show how it relates to your thesis.
  • Block format all quotations of more than four lines.
  • When you quote brief passages of poetry, line and stanza divisions are shown as a slash (Ex. "Roses are red, / Violets are blue / You love me / And I like you").
  • For more help, see the OWL handout on using quotes.
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