DEALING WITH TITLES IN MLA FORMAT
by Dr. Harold William Halbert
The conventions of properly marking a title in MLA style can seem confusing, but the basic issues deal with 1) capitalization and 2) marking the title.
The standard conventions for capitalizing a title in MLA style are straightforward:
- The first letter of every word is capitalized except for articles, coordinating conjunctions, and prepositions.
- Articles ("a," "an," and "the"), coordinating conjunctions ("for," "and," "nor," "but," "or," "yet," and "so"), and prepositions (words such as "on," "above," "below," "to," "throughout," etc.) are NOT capitalized.
- The first word is always capitalized, regardless of if it is an article or preposition.
Note that sometimes writers encounter titles that do not follow these conventions while conducting research. Databases often capitalize the entire title of an article or book, while other types of "styles" (like the AP style or the APA style) only capitalize the first word. You must change the capitalization of the title to MLA style if you reference the title of a work in your paper.
Marking the Title:
There are three possible ways to mark a title: the use of underlining/italics, quotation marks, or no mark at all. The following general rules of thumb may help writers conceptualize the difference between the three demarcations:
- Underline or italicize large works or works that contain other works.
- Use quotation marks on shorter works.
- Do not mark sacred texts or political documents such as laws, acts, treaties, or declarations.
The following chart offers specific types of texts and their demarcations:
|Underline/Italic||Quotation Marks||No Marks|
|Novels, books, anthologies||Short stories, essays, and chapter titles.||Religious texts|
|Magazines, newspapers, and journals||Individual articles|
|Films, TV shows, radio programs||Individual episodes of shows or programs|
|Web sites||Individual web pages|
|Epic poems||Regular poems|
|Pamphlets or sermons|
|Albums, named symphonies, ballets||Individual songs||Numbered musical compositions|
|Names of specific ships, spacecraft, or aircraft||Type of ship, spacecraft, or aircraft|
|Supreme Court Cases||Legal documents, treaties, acts, and declarations|
Note that underlining and italics signify the same type of mark. Many traditional professors prefer underling because when the MLA guidelines were first established, italics was not available on typewriters. In my class, you can use either underlining or italics, but you must be consistent: once you use underlining, stick with it. Never use BOTH italics and underlining.
Your Own Title:
Your own title for papers and other writings should follow the MLA rules on capitalization. Do not use italics, underlining, or quotation marks on it. Instead, it should appear centered one single-spaced line below the identification information and one single-spaced line above the first line of the paper. Do not increase the font size.
Titles in Titles:
If a title contains another title within it, confusion can occur. Follow the following rules to avoid confusion:
- An underlined title in an underlined title requires that the line be removed from internal title (example: Understanding The Sun Also Rises).
- A quoted title inside a quoted title requires the use of single quotation marks around the internal title (example: "The Dandy in Cather's 'Paul's Case'").
Owned by Dr. Harold William Halbert
Based on MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers (6th Edition)
Others are welcome to use this document provided credit is given to me.
Simply put: no.
APA's Publication Manual (2010) indicates that, in the body of your paper, you should use italics for the titles of:
- periodicals (journals, magazines, newspapers)
- TV shows
- Microfilm publications
Beyond APA's specific examples, know that certain types of titles are almost always written in italics.
Use italics in a word-processed document for the types of titles you'd underline if you were writing by hand. A general rule of thumb is that within the text of a paper, italicize the title of complete works but put quotation marks around titles of parts within a complete work.
The table below isn't comprehensive, but it's a good starting point
|Titles in Italics||Titles Placed in "Quotation Marks"|
|Title of a periodical (magazine, journal, newspaper)||Title of article in a periodical|
|Title of a book||Title of a chapter in a book|
|Title of a movie or play||Name of an act or scene in a movie or a play|
|Title of a television or radio series||Title of an episode within a tv or radio series|
|Title of a musical album or CD||Title of a song|
|Title of a long poem||Title of a short poem|
|Names of operas or long musical composition|
|Names of paintings and sculptures|
Title of a short story
On an APA-style reference page, the rules for titles are a little different. In short, a title you would italicize within the body of a paper will also be italicized on a reference page. However, a title you'd place in quotation marks within the body of the paper (such as the title of an article within a journal) will be written in normal lettering and will not be in quotation marks.
Here are some examples:
Smith (2001) research is fully described in the Journal of Higher Education.
Smith's (2001) article "College Admissions See Increase" was published in the Journal of Higher Education after his pivotal study on the admissions process.