When to Punctuate Titles in Italics or Quotes

Punctuating Titles

Illustration by Claire Cohen. © 2018 ThoughtCo.

You may have wondered in the middle of typing up a research project: Do I italicize a song title? What about a painting?​ Even the most experienced writers have a problem remembering the proper punctuation for certain types of titles. Books are italicized (or underlined) and articles are put in quotation marks. That's about as far as many people can remember.​

Many teachers require students to use Modern Language Association style for research papers and essays covering language arts, cultural studies, and the humanities. There is a trick to remembering how to treat titles in MLA style, and it works well enough that you can commit most types of titles to memory. It's the big and little trick.

Big Things vs. Little Things

Big things and things that can stand on their own, like books, are italicized. Little things that are dependent or that come as part of a group, like chapters, are put into quotation marks. Think of a CD or an album as a major (big) work that can be divided into smaller parts, or songs. The individual song names (small part) are punctuated with quotation marks.

For example:

  • The Sweet Escape, by Gwen Stefani, includes the song "Wind It Up."

While this is not a perfect rule, it can be helpful for determining whether to italicize or surround an item in quotation marks when you have no resources at hand.

Furthermore, italicize or underline any published collection, like a book of poetry. Put the individual entry, like a poem, in quotation marks. However: a long, epic poem that is often published on its own would be treated like a book. The Odyssey is one example.

Punctuating Titles of Works of Art

Creating a work of art is an enormous task. For that reason, you can think of art as a big accomplishment. That might sound a bit corny, but it will help you remember. Individual works of art, like paintings and sculptures, are underlined or italicized:

Note that a photograph—although not any less significant or important—is often much smaller than a work of created art, and is placed in quotation marks. Following are guidelines for punctuating titles according to MLA standards.

Titles and Names to Italicize

Works to put in italics include:

  • A novel
  • A ship
  • A play
  • A film
  • A painting
  • A sculpture or statue
  • A drawing
  • A CD
  • A TV Series
  • A cartoon series
  • An encyclopedia
  • A magazine
  • A newspaper
  • A pamphlet

Titles to Put Into Quotation Marks

When deciding how to handle smaller works, put quotation marks around:

  • A poem
  • A short story
  • A skit
  • A commercial
  • An individual episode in a TV series (like "The Soup Nazi" on Seinfeld)
  • A cartoon episode, like "Trouble With Dogs"
  • A chapter
  • An article
  • A newspaper story

More Tips on Punctuating Titles

Some titles are merely capitalized and not given additional punctuation. These include:

  • Religious works, like the Bible or the Koran
  • Buildings
  • Monuments
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Your Citation
Fleming, Grace. "When to Punctuate Titles in Italics or Quotes." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, thoughtco.com/punctuating-titles-1857242. Fleming, Grace. (2023, April 5). When to Punctuate Titles in Italics or Quotes. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/punctuating-titles-1857242 Fleming, Grace. "When to Punctuate Titles in Italics or Quotes." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/punctuating-titles-1857242 (accessed June 4, 2023).