Life Lesson Essay Titles In Italics

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Italics vs. Quotation Marks

Up until a few decades ago, writers had two choices: write in longhand or use a typewriter. Typewriters had one font. The characters were one size only. If you wanted to cut and paste, you needed scissors and adhesive tape.

Writing in italics was all but impossible, except for professional printing companies.

Thanks to today’s computer keyboards, we now have access to italics. So we need a sensible plan for when to use them and when to use quotation marks. Here is a formula we recommend: Put the title of an entire composition in italics. Put the title of a short work—one that is or could be part of a larger undertaking—in quotation marks.

By “composition” we mean a creative, journalistic, or scholarly enterprise that is whole, complex, a thing unto itself. This includes books, movies, plays, TV shows, newspapers, magazines, websites, music albums, operas, musical theater, paintings, sculptures, and other works of art.

The following sentence illustrates the principle: Richard Burton performed the song “Camelot” in the 1960 Broadway musical Camelot. Although the word is the same, “Camelot” the song takes quotation marks because it’s part of a larger work—namely, a full-length show called Camelot.

Italics are also widely used with names of ships, trains, and planes, e.g., the Titanic, the 20th Century Limited,the Spirit of St. Louis. (Note: with ships, do not italicize prefixes such as USS or HMS.)

Quotation marks are customary for components, such as chapter titles in a book, individual episodes of a TV series, songs on a music album, and titles of articles or essays in print or online.

Titles of plays, long and short, are generally italicized. Titles of poems and shorter works of fiction are generally in quotation marks. Long poems, short films, and the extended stories known as “novellas” are a gray area; some people italicize the titles, others put them in quotation marks.

You won’t go wrong with this policy: For a full-blown composition, put the title in italics. For something smaller and less ambitious, e.g., a short story as opposed to a sprawling novel, put the title in quotation marks. That’s the long and the short of it.


Pop quiz
Place italics and quotation marks where they should go.

1. Elvis Presley sang Love Me Tender in the movie Love Me Tender.
2. Chapter 4 of Beautiful Ruins is called The Smile of Heaven.
3. Who sang God Save the Queen on the HMS Bounty?


Pop quiz answers
1. Elvis Presley sang “Love Me Tender” in the movie Love Me Tender.
2. Chapter 4 of Beautiful Ruins is called “The Smile of Heaven.”
3. Who sang “God Save the Queen” on the HMS Bounty? (no points if you italicized HMS)

Posted on Monday, June 16, 2014, at 10:39 pm


47 Comments on Italics vs. Quotation Marks

When referring to a title, use italics (or underlining in handwriting) for longer works and quotation marks for shorter works. Don't use either one for the title on a document you are writing yourself, such as an essay. You only need to use italics or quotation marks when you are referring to a work.

If you could buy the item by itself, use italics. If you have to buy a larger object in order to get what you want, use quotes.
ItalicsQuotation MarksExamples
Book-length play
Short story
Short (1-2 act) play

I read the fourth chapter, "Acrobatic Kites," in the book Best Kite Building Ever.

Our class read the television play "The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street" before we tackled Hamlet.

Magazine or Newspaper Article The article "Four Fabulous Heroes" in last week's New York Times was inspiring.
Television seriesEpisode"Goodbye, Farewell and Amen" was the most watched episode of M*A*S*H*.
Movie Scene (You would only refer to a scene when referring to the movie script itself, and only if that scene has an actual title.)

I think I have watched The Sound of Music at least twenty times.

We had to shoot the last scene, "The Goodbye," twenty-three times.

CD or albumSong My favorite song is "Isn't She Lovely" from Stevie Wonder's album Songs in the Key of Life.
WebsiteWeb page I found this information on Wikipedia on the page "William Crookes."
BuildingN/A While we were in New York, we visited the Empire State Building.
VehicleN/A The space shuttle Discovery is now in Washington, D. C.

Practice What You've Learned


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