Italics or Quotations Marks?

by Cherie Tucker

Would you write War and Peace or “War and Peace”?  There is some confusion as to how to represent titles of literary works, names of ships, operas, and such in print.  Some people put them all in quotation marks, but some things require italics. There is a simple way to remember when to use italics versus quotation marks. If what you are naming is a complete thing, you need italics: book titles; magazine and newspapers; television series, plays, and movies; operas and musicals; paintings and sculptures; and ships and airplanes belong in italics.  (If for some reason you can’t produce italics on your computer, you may underline or use all capital letters.) 

Portions of complete things and shorter works, such as magazine or newspaper articles, song titles, segments of a television series, short stories, and short poems belong in quotation marks.

My favorite I Love Lucy episode was “The Candy Factory.”

Did you read the article “Celebrating Children” in The Seattle Times?

Her favorite song in Les Misérables was “Do You Hear the People Sing?”

We had to memorize “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” in high school.

You may notice that these rules are not always followed in print.  Many businesses use their own “style manuals” that you are required to adhere to so that everything that comes out of their company is consistent.  Newspapers commonly use quotation marks around book titles, for example, as The Associated Press STYLEBOOK and Libel Manual recommends.  

If you are your own author, however, you must recognize that writing is the ultimate form of mind control.  Your word choice and punctuation should provide seamless and uninterrupted reading.  If you follow the rules that most readers of English were taught, you will not have your reader stop in puzzlement over a misplaced comma or a missing end parenthesis or, worse, judge you and your editor.  The reader will know when you are referring to a book, not a short story.

By the way, the title of your manuscript (yet unpublished) should be in quotation marks.  Then you may pray for italics.

Cherie Tucker, owner of GrammarWorks, has taught writing basics to professionals since 1987, presenting at the PNWA conference.  She currently teaches Practical Grammar for Editors at the University of Washington’s Editing Certification program and edits as well.

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