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.
The author or authors' name or names are never italicized. Adhering to the rules of capitalization, authors' names are written in the normal way. There are several academic writing styles--and one, Associated Press (AP), specialized for journalism--and though they differ on some points of writing style, they consistently agree that authors' names are not italicized. The one exception to this is when an author's name forms part of a book or play title, such as in this made-up example, After Jane Austen Wrote and Came to Dinner.
The various writing style guides used for academic writing are put out by these organizations: Modern Language Association (MLA), used in literature and other language-centered academic writing; Associated Psychology Association (APA), used for academic writing in social sciences; University of Chicago, Chicago Manual of Style (CMS), used by various academic institutions and by some journalistic institutions; Turabian, based upon CMS but simplified for unpublished academic works; Harvard University, Harvard Author-Datestyle, used widely for general academic writing.
None of these style guides allow for putting author names in italics. For the short story "Boys and Girls," your reference in MLA style would specify Alice Munro, "Boys and Girls," Dance of the Happy Shades.