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.
1.4: Italics and Underlining
Last edited by Elizabeth Angeli, Allen Brizee on April 3, 2013 .
This resource deals with italics and underlining.
Italics and Underlining
Italics and underlining generally serve similar purposes. However, the context for their use is different. When handwriting a document--or in other situations where italics aren't an option--use underlining. When you are word processing a document on a computer, use italics. The important thing is to stay consistent in how you use italics and underlining.
Italicize the titles of magazines, books, newspapers, academic journals, films, television shows, long poems, plays, operas, musical albums, works of art, websites.
- I read a really interesting article in Newsweek while I was waiting at the doctor’s office.
- My cousin is reading The Adventures of Tom Sawyer for two different classes.
- I have every album from Dave Matthews Band, except for Crash.
Quotation Marks and Italics/Underlining Exercise
In the following sentences put in quotation marks wherever they are needed, and underline words where italics are needed.
1. Mary is trying hard in school this semester, her father said.
2. No, the taxi driver said curtly, I cannot get you to the airport in fifteen minutes.
3. I believe, Jack remarked, that the best time of year to visit Europe is in the spring. At least that's what I read in a book entitled Guide to Europe.
4. My French professor told me that my accent is abominable.
5. She asked, Is Time a magazine you read regularly?
6. Flannery O'Connor probably got the title of one of her stories from the words of the old popular song, A Good Man Is Hard to Find.
7. When did Roosevelt say, We have nothing to fear but fear itself?
8. It seems to me that hip and cool are words that are going out of style.
9. Yesterday, John said, This afternoon I'll bring back your book Conflict in the Middle East; however, he did not return it.
10. Can you believe, Dot asked me, that it has been almost five years since we've seen each other?
11. A Perfect Day for Bananafish is, I believe, J. D. Salinger's best short story.
12. Certainly, Mr. Martin said, I shall explain the whole situation to him. I know that he will understand.
Click here for exercise answers.
Put in semicolons, colons, dashes, quotation marks, Italics (use an underline), and parentheses where ever they are needed in the following sentences.
1. The men in question Harold Keene, Jim Peterson, and Gerald Greene deserve awards.
2. Several countries participated in the airlift Italy, Belgium, France, and Luxembourg.
3. Only one course was open to us surrender, said the ex-major, and we did.
4. Judge Carswell later to be nominated for the Supreme Court had ruled against civil rights.
5. In last week's New Yorker, one of my favorite magazines, I enjoyed reading Leland's article How Not to Go Camping.
6. Yes, Jim said, I'll be home by ten.
7. There was only one thing to do study till dawn.
8. Montaigne wrote the following A wise man never loses anything, if he has himself.
9. The following are the primary colors red, blue, and yellow.
10. Arriving on the 8 10 plane were Liz Brooks, my old roommate her husband and Tim, their son.
11. When the teacher commented that her spelling was poor, Lynn replied All the members of my family are poor spellers. Why not me?
12. He used the phrase you know so often that I finally said No, I don't know.
13. The automobile dealer handled three makes of cars Volkswagens, Porsches, and Mercedes Benz.
14. Though Phil said he would arrive on the 9 19 flight, he came instead on the 10 36 flight.
15. Whoever thought said Helen that Jack would be elected class president?
16. In baseball a show boat is a man who shows off.
17. The minister quoted Isaiah 5 21 in last Sunday's sermon.
18. There was a very interesting article entitled The New Rage for Folk Singing in last Sunday's New York Times newspaper.
19. Whoever is elected secretary of the club Ashley, or Chandra, or Aisha must be prepared to do a great deal of work, said Jumita, the previous secretary.
20. Darwin's On the Origin of Species 1859 caused a great controversy when it appeared.
Click here for exercise answers.