If you need advice about formatting headings in your work, try this post. But if you want to know about formatting titles of other works in your writing (e.g., books or journal articles), you’re in the right place! Read on to find out when to use italics and quote marks for titles in your work.
First, let’s give an example of what we mean. Take the following sentence:
Here, “Game of Thrones” refers to a popular TV show. If we didn’t know this, we might guess from the capitalization, but most style guides also recommend using distinct formatting for titles. This usually means italicizing the title or placing it in quote marks. But when does each apply?
Longer Works (Italics)
Titles of longer works, such as books or TV shows, are usually italicized:
We use italics for Game of Thrones because it refers to an entire TV series. Works that require italics for titles in this manner include:
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Books and book-length poems
Journals, newspapers, magazines, and other periodicals
Entire websites and blogs
Movies, radio programs, and TV shows
Plays, musicals, and other stage shows
Paintings, statues, and other works of art
Music albums and other long recordings
Importantly, all of these are standalone works (i.e., published by themselves rather than as part of a larger whole). So, for example, you would italicize the name of a blog (e.g., Jenny’s Cooking Blog), but not the name of a post taken from that blog (e.g., “How to Make Beef Stroganoff”).
Shorter Works (Quote Marks)
With shorter works that are part of a larger whole, titles should be given in quotation marks. An episode of Game of Thrones, for instance, would be written as follows:
Here, the formatting lets us instantly distinguish between an episode title and the show title. Quotation marks are also used when referring to titles of:
Chapters from books or edited volumes
Articles from newspapers, magazines, journals and other periodicals
Particular pages from a website or posts from a blog
Individual poems, short stories, and other short literary works
Single episodes from a TV series
Songs and other short recordings
Unpublished writing (regardless of length)
With most of these, the key is that they’re published as part of a longer work or series. The only exception to this is unpublished writing (e.g., a PhD dissertation or an unpublished manuscript).
As with most rules in writing, there are exceptions to these guidelines about formatting titles. For example, APA has different rules depending on whether a title appears in the main text or the reference list. It is therefore always worth checking your style guide to see if it has specific requirements.