Using Titles

When you use sources in your writing, inevitably, you will have to mention the title of the source. When you discuss any work of literature or cinema in writing, print the titles of the pieces appropriately. These rules apply to your Works Cited page as well.

Capitalization for Most Titles

The Rule: In the U.S., it is standard practice to capitalize the first letter of each major word in a title. Connecting words like "and," "of," "the," "to," and "for" are not capitalized unless they begin the title. (NOTE: The underlines are just for emphasis here.)

Examples

The Sun Also Rises

The St. Martin's Guide to Writing

"Dry Salvages"

The Sound and the Fury

"Pater Familias, Mater Familias, and the Gendered Semantics of the Roman Household"

The Simon and Schuster Handbook for Writers

Using Italics or the Underline for Long Works

The Rule: For the titles of long works such as books (novels, collections of short stories, readers, school textbooks), epic poems, plays, newspapers, journals, magazines, movies, and databases, either italicize or underline the title. Italics look more professional, and all word processors will allow you to use them, so I recommend them over the underline.

Avoid Mixing: Do not mix underline and italics in one paper or use both for one title, even on the Works Cited page. Either/or is the rule. My advice? Choose italics and forget the underline, which can create problems with punctuation marks.

Notes about Titles on Works Cited Pages:

  1. Long Works in Larger Anthologies: This italics-for-long-works rule applies even to long works appearing in larger anthologies. So on a Works Cited page, the novel Madame Bovary gets marked with italics, and directly after this title, The Norton Anthology of Western Literature gets marked as well, since it is also a book (a book containing books). Don't make the mistake of assuming a long work should now be considered a short work just because it appears in a longer work.
  2. Original Publications: When citing a database source, remember to italicize the original publishing journal in which the piece appears. For instance, if you are citing an essay entitled "Augustus and his Rome," and this essay was originally published in the Journal of Western Antiquities, remember to use italics for that original journal's title.
  3. Database Titles: The title of the database in which you find the source is treated as a long work and receives italics. If you found the above title through the Religion and Philosophy Collection, italicize this database title.

Examples

Augustus (novel)

Academic Search Complete (research database)

The Odyssey (epic poem)

A Raisin in the Sun (multi-act play)

The Stories of John Cheever (short story collection)

Midnight Cowboy (movie)

FirstSearch (research database)

The New York Times (newspaper)

Time (magazine)

Newsweek (magazine)

Classical Philology (scholarly journal)

The Art Bulletin (scholarly journal)

The Journal of Theological Studies (scholarly journal)

Using Quotation Marks for Short Works

The Rule: For the titles of short works such as short stories, essays, newspaper articles, and lyric poems, use "quotation marks." Do not use italics in the title of a short work unless a title of a long work appears in the short work.

Examples

"What We Talk About When We Talk About Love" (short story)

"The Bull in the Colosseum: A Study of Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises" (essay with the title of a long work embedded)

"The Warren Cup: Homoerotic Love and Symposial Rhetoric in Silver" (scholarly essay)

"Richard Cory" (lyric poem)

"The Court's Dilemma" (editorial in a newspaper)

To Wrap Up

Printing titles correctly is evidence of your knowledge of appropriate form in writing. When correct, your readers don't notice (it's a thankless job; when incorrect, it's glaringly evident. So use proper form and thank yourself for doing the right thing.

Gary Enns, Professor of English, Cerro Coso Community College