Marking Titles

A reader asks:

When writing about a short story, do you underline the title of the story or do you use quotation marks around the title of the story?

Quotation Marks:

The most common way to mark a short story title is to enclose it in quotation marks. Titles of newspaper and magazine articles are also enclosed in quotation marks. Here are a few examples:

  • “Bartleby the Scrivener” by Herman Melville
  • “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” by Flannery O’Connor
  • Mommy Madness” by Judith Warner in Newsweek

Italics or Underlining:

Longer works—novels, magazines, newspapers, movies—are typically underlined or set in italic type. Although either is acceptable, I prefer italics, especially on the web, since an underlined word can be mistaken for a hyperlink.

  • Moby Dick by Herman Melville
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • The Simpsons
  • The New York Times

Extra Credit:

I’m not sure why, but The New Yorker puts quotation marks around everything, whether it’s a short story or a novel or a television show. I suppose the most important thing is internal consistency. If you use italics for one novel’s title, use italics for every novel’s title; don’t switch to quotation marks or underlining halfway through an article, or even in a different article of the same publication.

Any questions? Post them in the comment form, and I’ll answer them as promptly as I can.

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45 Responses to Marking Titles

  1. Jill says:

    When writing about a television show, should you underline the title?

  2. Jill,
    As I dig deeper into this issue, I’m finding that the conventions vary depending on where your work is being published.
    For many American students and writers of scholarly works in the humanities, the MLA Handbook and MLA Style Manual are the authoritative guides. Their advice is to underline (or italicize) the title of a television show, but to put a show’s episode title in quotation marks.
    For newspaper and magazine publishing, the Associated Press Stylebook has gained widespread acceptance, though individual publishers often have their own complementary guides. Here’s what the AP Stylebook says:

    Apply the guidelines listed here to book titles, computer game titles (but not software titles), movie titles, opera titles, play titles, poem titles, song titles, television program titles, and the titles of lectures, speeches, and works of art.
    —Put quotation marks around the names of all such works except the Bible and books that are primarily catalogs of reference material.

  3. Ali says:

    do you underline a song or put it in quotations?

  4. Sarah says:

    Do I underline the title of a play in my essay? or italics, or quotation?

  5. Karl says:

    Ali, put song titles inside quotation marks.
    Sarah, the rule that I learned long ago (and which you probably should double-check) is that one-act and other short plays take quotation marks, but longer plays take italics or underlining. This “rule” is consistent with the distinction between short stories (quotation marks) and novels (italics or underlining).

  6. Van Anh says:

    Do you underline a movie title or use quotation mark aroun them?
    I read that we use quotation mark around short poems. What do you mean by “short”? How long do you consider “short” ?

  7. mrc says:

    Do you underline the title of movies or put them in quotation marks?

  8. Diana says:

    What is the difference between computer games and software? Aren’t computer games considered software and if so, do they have to be underlined?

  9. Karl says:

    Van Anh and mrc, I’m not able to give you a definitive answer to your questions. As you should have read in the entry and in my comment (#2), style guides vary in their rules for formatting titles. Your best bet is to consult the generally accepted style manual for the discipline or field in which you are writing.

  10. Rachel says:

    What about essays? Do they fall into the same category as short stories and articles?

  11. Kels says:

    Hey, what should I use when sourcing a poem? Quotation marks?

  12. Sure, quotation marks will work, unless you’re citing an epic poem, in which case italics or underlining would be preferable.

  13. Nathan Kukla says:

    What about the title of an art show?

  14. sarah says:

    do you underline the names of editors or publishing companies?

  15. Lemon says:

    I understand quotes are used for a short story, but what about a collection of short stories?

  16. Karl says:

    You can treat a collection of short stories the same way you would treat a novel: Italicize or underline the title.

  17. Karen says:

    Do you use italics, quotes or underlining when refering to board games in a newsletter? Specifically: Chess, Snakes and Ladders, Pick Up Sticks, Go Fish.
    Thank you.

  18. Karl says:

    Hi Karen,
    The answer is none of the above. All you need to do is capitalize the words.

  19. Kelly says:

    Do you underline the specific name of a store? ex. Johnson’s Grocery or Roses and Ribbons?

  20. Karl says:

    No. Just capitalize it.

  21. Kelly says:

    How about TV shows? Underline or quotation marks?
    ex. The Tonight Show

  22. Whitney says:

    okay so im writing an essay over poems by walt whitman. would i use quotations or underline the name of one of his short poems in his book leaves of grass?

  23. Xiul says:

    Hello, I ran into your site doing a research on conclusions. I found some of your comments and questions useful. What role do conclusions play in writing? Is there a general rule? Is it an over summary of the story? And is there a wrong way to write them? Anything will be a helpful start.Hope to hear back soon. Thank you.

  24. Dee says:

    Should you underline the title of a Newsletter when citing it on a webpage or place it in italics?

  25. Karl says:

    Does the newsletter contain more than one article? If so, treat it the same way you would treat a newspaper: underline or italicize it.

  26. Krystal says:

    Reading the questions and answers has been relly helpful. Thanks!

  27. Manon age 10 says:

    How do you decide whether to capitalize small words like “it “and “is” or “the” in the title of a book etc?

  28. Kattie says:

    In my essay I am unsure if i should use quotation marks or underline the name of a short story

  29. Karl says:

    Kattie: you should use quotation marks.

  30. Morgan says:

    What about a band name? Do you use quotations?
    I’m writing a story for my class and the sentence is:
    As I adjusted my Spice Girls backpack and picked up my Rugrats lunchbox I tried to hold back the tears.

  31. Tahnee says:

    Do you underline awards, like Newberry ones, or quote them?

  32. caleb says:

    Hi. If writing out the title of a chapter in a book do you put it in quotation marks, italicize, or just capitalize?

  33. Chris says:

    What do I do for the title of an artwork within a quote or block quote? Do I use single quote marks as if it were a quoatation? Or stick with the double?

  34. Miriam Sobel says:

    In a novel is it correct to use italics for foreign language words? Please reply as soon as possible.
    Miriam Sobel

  35. emma says:

    do you underline, italicize, or put the name of an essay in quotes???
    i want to put this essay in my very important language arts report, which is like 90% of my grade for this semester….

    please answer me….thx!


  36. Karl says:

    Hi Emma,
    Put the title of an essay in quotation marks.

  37. Nichole says:

    This site was very helpful to question was should I underline a story title in an essay?

  38. Karl says:

    The very first sentence in the entry above states, “The most common way to mark a short story title is to enclose it in quotation marks.”
    Don’t underline a story; wrap it in quotation marks.

  39. Sheena says:

    This page has been extremely helpful. Thank you so much!

  40. Shelby says:

    Do you put a band name in quotes or italics or do you just leave it alone?

  41. Karl says:

    Hi Shelby,
    I would just leave it alone.

  42. Katy says:

    Do I underline, italicize, or put quotes around the title of a legislative bill?

  43. JaredMT says:

    As Diana asked years before me, what sort of marking style would you use for the titles of software or video games?
    Thanks in advance.
    PS: Also, why do you not answer all questions? I realize that you get many of these questions, but I have seen some questions go unanswered (at least, as far as visibility to the public goes) whereas other questions are publicly answered numerous times! This is redundant and, I feel, terribly ineffective.
    I appreciate the website very much, as well as the effort you put into replying to its visitors. I just wish I didn’t have to re-ask a question that’s already been asked just because it was ignored.

  44. Karl says:

    Style guides offer contradictory information about such matters, so it’s impossible for me to tell you what is correct in every context. You’ll have to refer to an appropriate style guide for the type of writing you’re doing.
    I don’t answer all questions because I don’t have the time to do so. I have responsibilities as an employee, freelance consultant, father, and husband that more important than (to me) than answering questions here. Also, I changed careers about five years ago from English instruction to web development. I try to answer questions about grammar punctuation, and style as I find time, but sometimes it’s hard to put myself back in that “world.”
    I’m sorry that questions go unanswered. Maybe I should turn off the comment-writing feature. Thanks for provoking me to think about this.

  45. Lauren Carotenuto says:

    Do you underline the title of an essay?