Skip to content

My Story Titles In An 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?).


FREE DOWNLOAD:
Debunking 10 Grammar (and Novel Writing) Myths


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.


Want to have the first draft of your novel finished one month from today?
Use this discounted bundle of nine great resources to make that happen.
Order now.


Thanks for visiting The Writer’s Dig blog. For more great writing advice, click here.


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.

Follow Brian on Twitter: @BrianKlems
Sign up for Brian’s free Writer’s Digest eNewsletter: WD Newsletter

 

You might also like:

CATEGORIES
The Writer's Dig, What's New

RELATED POSTS
How Writing Saved My Life
How to Create a Protagonist Who is Very Different From You
Five Books Every Writer Should Read — What Are Your Top 5?
6 Ways to Stay Creative as a Writer (When You’re a Parent)
Submitting Your Short Fiction and Poetry: 5 FAQs from a Magazine Editor

In a serious essay or academic paper I would put any book title, whether fiction or non-fiction, or the title of any journal article, in italics. The name of the author should not be italicised. Publishing date and details usually go in brackets. So in the body of the text you could say something like:

In his study of camels which sleepwalk across the deserts of Arabia, G.K. Johnson in his book Do camels dream? refers to work he did in 1986.

The footnote might read Johnson G.K. Do camels dream? (London 1987).

Edit. This works for short stories assuming the short story concerned is the only content of the publication. If one is referring to a story from a book of short stories, then quotation marks rather than italics would be used, and there is a further system for referencing this. However I apologise that I may have got out of my depth on this as it is several years since I was writing academic essays.