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In Essay Should Book Titles Be Underlined Plus

Underlining or Italicizing Titles Titles of longer written works are underlined or italicized.

Longer written works include books, full-length plays, films, longer musical compositions, and periodicals.

Incorrect (speaking of the musical): I like Oklahoma.
(The state?)

Incorrect: I like "Oklahoma."
(The song?)

Correct: I like Oklahoma. OR
I like Oklahoma.
(The title of a longer work is italicized or underlined.)

Correct: I liked Macbeth, but not Macbeth.
(I liked the play Macbeth, but not the character of that name.)

Correct:Time magazine carried a review of Blade Runner, the film based on the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
(The periodical, film, and book title are all italicized or underlined. Note that the question mark is italicized also because it is part of the title.)

Titles of radio and television series as well as works of art are underlined or italicized.

Correct: Rodin's The Thinker Correct: We used to watch reruns of Gilligan's Island. Correct: My favorite Star Trek episode is "The Trouble with Tribbles."
(Note the last one--the series is italicized; the episode is in quotation marks.)

See also Underlining and Italicizing, Italicized Names, and Titles with Quotation Marks.

If an italicized or underlined name or title appears in the title of a work or some other writing which is otherwise italicized or underlined, the writer has a choice:

1.

Normally the specific item reverts to standard type. This is always done in bibliographies and formal references.

Example:A Commentary on Piers Plowman
(Book title contains name of another book)
2. Or you may italicize or underline the title or otherwise italicized or underlined writing without regard to the further italicized words. This may be necessary to avoid confusion.
Example:A Commentary on Piers Plowman helped me understand that medieval work.
(Using the style of #1 for this would be more likely to confuse the reader.)

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Copyright©1997-2006 English Plus, All rights reserved.

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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