Do You Underline or Italicize Book Titles?

Get expert tips on how to properly format your book title whether you’re writing in MLA, APA, or Chicago style.

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When to underline or italicize book titles

The titles of books should be either underlined or italicized. (The exception to this rule is the Bible, which should not be italicized or underlined.) When deciding whether to underline or italicize a book title, consider its length and format.

If the book title is short (fewer than four words), it can be run into the text and enclosed in quotation marks. If the title is longer or consists of more than one line, it should be set off from the text by being either underlined or set in italics.

How underlining and italicizing affects book titles

The way you format a book title in your text depends on two factors: how you write the title of the work and how it is published. In general, you should italicize or underline the titles of long works, like books, movies, or record albums. Short works, like poems, articles, or TV episodes, should be in quotation marks.

However, there are some exceptions. If you are writing by hand, you can underline the titles of long works to indicate that they should be in italics when they are published. Similarly, if you are publishing your work electronically, you can use italics or underlining to indicate that the title should be in italics when it is published in print.

Italics and underlining are also used to highlight certain keywords or phrases in a text to draw attention to them. For example, if you are writing a paper about the effects of global warming, you might want to italicize the phrase “greenhouse gases” to make sure your reader sees it.

The difference between underlining and italicizing book titles

There is a lot of debate over whether or not you should underline or italicize book titles when you are writing. The general rule is that if the work is part of a larger work (like a chapter in a book) you should italicize the title, but if the work is stand-alone (like a novel) you can either italicize or underline it. Some people argue that since computers make it easy to italicize, there is no need to underline anymore, but others believe that underlining can be helpful in certain situations. Ultimately, it is up to you to decide which form you prefer.

When NOT to underline or italicize book titles

In general, you should italicize the titles of long works, like books, movies, or record albums. With shorter works, like articles or TV episodes, you can put the title in quotation marks.

Howevever, there’s a time when you shouldn’t italicize or put quotation marks around a title. If you’re referring to the general idea of a work rather than the specific title, you don’t need to use italics or quotation marks. For example:

I read War and Peace last summer. (The specific book War and Peace.)
I’m going to watch Apocalypse Now tonight. (The specific movie Apocalypse Now.)
However:

I’m interested in reading about World War II. (You’re referring to the general idea of the war, not a particular book about it.)
I want to watch a movie about Vietnam. (You’re referring to the general idea of the war, not a particular movie about it.)

The history of underlining and italicizing book titles

Since the dawn of the printing press, there have been various methods of indicating titles of published works. In the early days of printing, titles were often underlined or set in italics to help distinguish them from the text around them. As times changed and printing technology improved, other methods were introduced, such as using quotation marks or bold typefaces.

It wasn’t until the early twentieth century that the modern system of using italics for book titles was introduced. This system is now universally used, and has become standardized across all publishing houses and platforms.

So, when do you underline or italicize book titles? The simple answer is: always italicize them. Whether you’re writing by hand or typing on a computer, book titles should always be set in italics. This rule applies to all types of published works, including novels, non-fiction books, anthologies, and even magazines and newspapers.

The benefits of underlining or italicizing book titles

The vast majority of people today italicize or underline book titles when typing them out on a computer. This has become the standard way to do it, since most word processing programs automatically format text this way.

However, there are still some holdouts who prefer to underline book titles when writing by hand. And there are good reasons for doing so. Underlining is still common in scholarly publications and in publishing generally, so if you’re submitting a manuscript for publication, you should definitely underline your titles rather than italicize them.

Italicizing book titles can also be a helpful way to call attention to certain words or phrases in your writing. If you want to emphasize a particular word or phrase, italicizing it can be an effective way to do so.

So if you’re not sure whether to italicize or underline your book titles, go with whichever feels more natural to you. Both methods are perfectly acceptable and will communicate your meaning clearly to your reader.

The drawbacks of underlining or italicizing book titles

There are a few drawbacks to underlining or italicizing book titles. First, it can be difficult to read a title that is underlined or italicized. Second, it can be confusing for readers to see a title that is both underlined and italicized. Third, some publishers do not allow authors to underline or italicize book titles.

How to underline or italicize book titles in different formats

Italics and underlining can be used interchangeably, although usually underlining is used when something is either hand written or typed; if using a computer you can italicize. Italics look more sophisticated and less cluttered than underlining, so if you have the option, use italics. If you are using a word processing program, there should be an easy way to set the text to italics. Check the “help” function of your program if uncertain how to do this.

Tips for underlining or italicizing book titles

When you are writing an essay, there are certain titling rules that you should follow. First and foremost, you should always underline or italicize the title of the book you are talking about. This is the most important titling rule and it applies to any type of work — whether it’s a book, article, poem, play, or movie.

There are a few exceptions to this rule, however. If the book you are talking about is a collection of essays or short stories, then you would use quotation marks around the title of the specific essay or story you are referencing. For example, if you were writing an essay about J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, you would use quotation marks around the title of the specific story “A Perfect Day for Bananafish.”

If you are unsure about which titling style to use, check with your professor or editor. They will be able to give you specific guidance on how to format your titles correctly.

Frequently asked questions about underlining or italicizing book titles

Q. When do you underline or italicize a book title?
A. As a general rule, use italics for titles of books, magazines, scholarly journals, newspapers, and films. Use quotation marks for titles of articles, essays, short stories, poems, and chapters in a book.

Q. When do you underline or italicize the name of a television show or movie?
A. Generally speaking, you should use italics for the titles of long works such as books, movies, or album titles. However, some style guides prefer that TV show names be written in quotation marks.

Q. I’m writing an essay about Gone with the Wind and I want to use a long quotation from the book. How do I format it?
A. When including a long quotation in your essay (more than four typed lines), follow these formatting guidelines:
-Indent the entire quotation one inch from the left margin
-Double-space the lines of the quotation
-Do not add quotation marks at the beginning or end of the blockquote—the indentation shows that it’s a quote
-At the end of the blockquote, add a parenthetical citation including the author’s last name and page number (e.g., Mitchell 12).

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