How to Write a Book Title in an Essay – Italicize or Underline?

Jan 11, 2020


When creating an essay – either serious analytical work or an expression of your views on a specific topic – you can’t avoid mentioning titles of other publications, as it is one of the most potent instruments a student can possess. Judge for yourself: your arguments can be marked as irrelevant by a meticulous professor, but not when they are articulated by classic authors, scientists, other influential figures in their works.

What is more, an important paper simply wouldn’t be accepted if, when reading it, your professor doesn’t notice a substantial research work conducted. You automatically increase the “weight” of your paper when demonstrating your knowledge in the area. Therefore, you can’t go without mentioning books, articles, and other authoritative materials is indisputable; another question is how to do it correctly.

Years ago, there were not so many ways to emphasize what you write, as printing machines only were able to underline the text. As for now, you have a wide variety of editing instruments, be it bold, italics, or “quotation marks,” but how should one use them correctly in his writing? In this short guide we will discuss how to write titles of works in an essay, including book titles.

How Book Titles Should Be Written

There is no definitive guide that would certainly solve the neverending dispute of whether one should italicize or quote the name of the book in an essay. Still, the generally accepted AMA (American Medical Association) and CMOS (The Chicago Manual of Style) formatting styles bring clarity to the topic. You can confidently use them as your guiding light in formatting thickets, unless, of course, your education facility has its own established directions – then the solution is to simply follow them instead of reading this article.

A general rule you should memorize is that titles of long works, such as books or newspapers, should be italicized, while titles of short works – articles, book chapters, poems, etc. – should be taken into quotation marks. That’s how you use this rule in practice:

✅ I’ve recently read Isaac Asimov’s Foundation and Empire and want to share my opinion on it.

🔍 Here we emphasize the name of the book with italics.

✅ John Keats has many outstanding poems, but my favorite must be “Ode to a Nightingale.”

🔍 As soon as the poem is short and is only one of the numerous works the poet has written, we include its title in quotation marks.

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Punctuation in a Book Title

Some complications might appear when other punctuation characters come into play. But don’t be scared! The rules are simple and reasonable – and indeed easy to remember.

There are book titles that include punctuation marks. For example:

  • I have just finished reading Very Good, Jeeves! 
  • Did you manage to get a copy of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

As you can see, these titles should be italicized completely, including all signs of punctuation they include. The same applies to the names of poems, articles, and book chapters – they should be all inclosed in quotation marks.

Another situation is when we use a question mark or exclamation mark near the book title which it does not belong to. In such cases, we simply treat it separately from the book title and do not italicize it. On practice, it looks like this:

✅ Should young people, as a part of their educational process, explore War and Peace?

✅ The most influential book that determined the evolution of the science-fiction genre was Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Exceptions to Remember

When two or more book titles meet each other in a sentence, the more important one, which is usually larger, will win the honor to be italicized instead of being put inside quotation marks. This is especially true if you are talking about a book series.

✅ The three laws of robotics appeared as a concept inside the Robots series written by Isaac Azimov, and are presented in 6 prominent novels – “I, Robot,” “The Positronic Man,” “The Caves of Steel,” “The Naked Sun,” “The Robots of Dawn,” and “Robots and Empire.”

As you can see, the name of the series outweighs in importance the name of each book belonging to it – therefore, the rule meets its exception, and the name of each book is put inside quotation marks as the name of the series is outlined with italics.

Another example would be having a book title and its chapter title in one sentence:

✅ In Treasure Island we get the first mention of Jim hearing the voice of Israel Hands in chapter 11, “What I Heard in the Apple Barrel.”

Here is everything you will need to rock your essay and make it both literate and pleasant to read. Remembering these simple principles will allow you to address any writing material, be it an article or a novel hexalogy, without fear of being mistaken. And in case you have no time to deal with nuts and bolts of a perfect essay, our writers can always come to rescue you. Good luck with your studying!


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