Titles of Works – Punctuation Guide

When including titles of works in your writing, they must be appropriately punctuated. This helps emphasize their importance amongst the rest of the text. Although you may be creative in highlighting them, there are some broadly accepted rules for various titles of different works.

The most important thing to remember is to keep your punctuation consistent from one type of work or material to the next. In order to do that, first you need to understand how titles are categorized. Look at our punctuation guide to help determine which title deserves quotations, italics, or regular type.

How to Punctuate Titles

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How you use capitalizations and punctuation marks in a title are important. Despite having some creative freedom, most online citation style guides offer some helpful advice for consistency. Keep these rules and examples in mind when you are using various types of titles in your writing.

Rule 1: Capitalize the first and last word of a title

Some people believe that an entire title is written in capitalizations, but that isn’t true unless you are using your own creative style. However, be sure always to capitalize the first and last word. 

For example:

  • Lord of the Rings

Rule 2: Capitalize proper nouns, verbs, nouns, and adjectives

Always capitalize any proper nouns, any other nouns, verbs, and adjectives. These make up the bulk of a descriptive title and need to stand out. 

For example:

  • A Journey Through a History of Magic

Rule #3: Capitalize the subordinate conjunctions like, as, or because

Subordinate conjunctions help combine the rest of the words in a descriptive title and should always be capitalized. 

For example:

  • Love Like Me

Rule #4: Capitalize words following a colon

Be sure to capitalize the first word following a colon even if it is an article or coordinating conjunction. The part of a title that follows a colon is important to understanding the overall title and deserves added emphasis. 

For example:

  • Europe: A History

Rule #5: Do not capitalize the articles a, an, and the unless they are the first word of the title

Articles are conjoining words that when capitalized can take away from the main subject of the title. Keep them in lowercase unless they are the first word of the title or follow a colon. 

For example:

  • The Fellowship of the Ring

Rule #6: Do not capitalize the coordinating conjunctions but, and, or, if, or nor

SImilar to rule #5, keep coordinating conjunctions in lowercase unless they are also the first word of a title or follow a colon. 

For example:

  • The Fox and the Hound

Rule #7: Do not capitalize short prepositions of less than five letters

Short prepositions also need to be in lowercase to avoid pulling attention from the main subject of the title. To, at, in, and or are more commonly known, but words such as from, out, or over are also included in this list

For example: 

  • A History at Antietam: A War to Remember

Rule #8: Capitalize a phrasal verb particle

Go away, give over, and push on are examples of phrasal verbs and should be capitalized as they are usually a prominent part of the title. 

For example:

  • How to Push On in Life

Rule #9: Always include any ending marks or punctuation included with the title

Don’t add any punctuation or end marks to a title that does not already include them (unless the title ends the actual sentence it is included in). This consists of any colons, commas, question marks, or exclamation points. 

For example:

  • Why Me? A Story of Survival

Italics vs. Quotations vs. Regular Type

When using titles in your writing you want to indicate to the reader which words represent a title. You do this by making it stand out, and although you can get creative in how you highlight titles, it needs to be consistent in all your writing. Because of that it is sometimes best to follow the accepted rules for title punctuation to help you keep it the same from one text to the next. 

Big Titles vs Little Titles

“Big” titles, such as book titles or album titles, should be italicized. “Little” titles, such chapters in a book or a song title in an album, should be put into quotation marks. 

If you are handwriting, this can be difficult to do. In this situation you will replace the italicized big title with an underline. Leave little titles in quotations. 

For example:

  • I enjoyed Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Less Traveled” in his anthology, Frost’s Greatest Poems.

Works of Art

Works of art, such as paintings and sculptures, are considered a big work and their title should be italicized (or underlined if handwriting). Photography is considered a little work and should be put into quotations. 

For example:

  • Michelangelo’s Pieta is located in the Vatican and is an amazing piece to behold. 

Italics

Italicized titles indicate a more significant work. These include major works and publications in a variety of both print and digital options. The title of anything in print, such as books, plays, newspapers, and magazines are obvious, but italicization also applies to movies and television shows, plays and operas, blogs, legal cases, published journals, epic poems or book-length poems, paintings, and sculptures, and even cartoons and comic strips. 

Quotations

Quotation marks are reserved for shorter titles, or titles related to larger pieces of work. This includes the chapters in books, short stories and poems, articles in magazines and newspapers, blog entries, television episodes, and unpublished materials such as lectures and dissertations. 

Regular Type

Even though it feels natural to highlight titles with either italics or quotations within a block of text, there are some titles that should be left as regular type. These include the titles of awards, online databases and websites, religious works, and political documents. Always follow the same capitalization and punctuation rules, even if the title doesn’t call for italicization or quotation mark use.  

Title Guide

Keep this guide handy to help you remember which publications and other works that have titles should be correctly punctuated.

Italicize / Underline

  • newspapers
  • movies
  • musical compositions 
  • radio shows
  • sculptures
  • blogs
  • legal cases
  • books
  • magazines
  • television shows
  • plays
  • musical albums
  • operas
  • paintings
  • cartoons and comic strips
  • journals
  • long poems 

Place in Quotation Marks

  • short poems 
  • chapters in books
  • short stories
  • songs
  • blog entries
  • photographs
  • episodes of television shows
  • essays
  • articles in magazines, journals, newspapers, and encyclopedias
  • unpublished manuscripts, speeches, dissertations, theses, and lectures

Leave as Regular Type

  • awards
  • musical compositions not identified by name
  • online databases 
  • political documents
  • religious works 
  • sections, books, and prayers within religious works
  • streaming services 
  • websites
  • works of antiquity

Let’s Review

You can reference many titles in your writing, and you want to ensure your readers have a visual of them while they read for contextual purposes. The use of proper punctuation in terms of capitalization, italics, and quotations allows readers to know they are looking at a formal title being referenced within the work.

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