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When handwriting an essay, do you underline, use quotes, or do nothing when mentioning a work title?

Oct 20, 2020


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If you are struggling with this – you are not alone! It can be very confusing as different rules apply to different types of work titles. Moreover, those rules vary depending on a style guide that applies.

In handwriting, we obviously cannot use certain features of a computer keyboard. On a computer one would normally either put a title in “quotations marks” or italicize it. The latter is not possible when handwriting, so instead of italicizing one should underline.

The good news is that there is a very quick and simple rule that answers your question:

  • You should underline – for longer works’ titles and collection of works (e.g. newspapers, magazines, books, movies, etc.)
  • You should use quotation marks – for parts of longer works and shorter works (e.g. article in a magazine, chapter in a book, song title, short story, etc.)

There are 4 major style guides, which set the standards for formatting your work. These are:

  • Modern Language Association (MLA) – most common in humanities and arts;
  • American Physiological Association (APA) – used in humanities and social sciences;
  • Associated Press Stylebook (AP) – in internet, magazines, and newspapers; 
  • Chicago Manual of Style (Chicago) – used from science to humanities.

We advise you to be consistent and use only one of these styles in your works. However, if your tasks (different courses and different professors) require mixing and changing between styles, you should continue reading and note the differences.

Cases when you need to underline

You should underline longer works if you are using Chicago, MLA, and APA styles. On the contrary, the AP style does not require underlining longer works titles; only to use quotation marks. Here are the examples of the titles that should be underlined according to the three style guides:

Books, cartoons, films, video games, song albums, journals, newspapers, magazines, paintings, podcasts, symphonies, sculptures, plays, ships, names of exhibits at museums, comic strips, operas, television shows.

Cases when you need to use quotation marks

When referring to Chicago, MLA, and APA styles, use quotation marks for shorter works or pieces of longer works. The examples are:

“Book chapter, short story, an episode from a television show, album tracks or singles, speeches, unpublished writing such as lecture, poem.”

AP style is again different from the other three in a way that it does not require using magazines, journals, and newspapers in quotation marks (just a plain text). So, in a sense, the AP style is the easiest of all four.

APA style has its exception here as well. It does not use either quotation marks or underlining in titles of shorter works in lectures, journal articles, and essays that are part of a bigger essay collection.

When it comes to website titles, the Chicago and MLA styles differ: the former says they must be in regular type font, while the latter says they must be underlined. 

Cases when neither underlining not quotation marks are required

All four style books are unanimous when you should not highlight a title in any way (use a plain/ normal text instead):

Names of buildings, political documents, legal and constitutional documents, commercial products and awards, traditional games (board or card), software, and names of artifacts.

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