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How to Write Book Titles in MLA

Last Updated: April 1, 2024 Fact Checked

This article was co-authored by Annaliese Dunne and by wikiHow staff writer, Jennifer Mueller, JD . Annaliese Dunne is a Middle School English Teacher. With over 10 years of teaching experience, her areas of expertise include writing and grammar instruction, as well as teaching reading comprehension. She is also an experienced freelance writer. She received her Bachelor's degree in English. There are 8 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page. This article has been fact-checked, ensuring the accuracy of any cited facts and confirming the authority of its sources. This article has been viewed 47,169 times.

If you're writing a research paper, you may want to include the title of a book in the text of your paper. The handbook for the Modern Language Association (MLA) provides specific rules for how to set off the title of a book from the rest of your text. Generally, titles of books are set apart from the rest of the text following particular formatting, capitalization, and punctuation rules.

Formatting Titles

Step 1 Italicize book titles in the text of your paper.

  • Music album titles and film titles are also italicized.
  • In earlier editions, the MLA Handbook also permitted titles to be underlined. The 8th edition confirms that underlining is no longer appropriate.

Exception : Religious texts, such as the Bible or the Quran, are not italicized.

Step 2 Use regular font style to distinguish a title within a title.

  • For example, you might write: "In The Great Gatsby in the Classroom: Searching for the American Dream , David Dowling promotes the use of art and film to improve literacy."

Step 3 Italicize series titles that are independent or foundational.

  • For example, if you were talking about the Nancy Drew series, you would not italicize "Nancy Drew" because the name does not appear in the titles of any of the individual books. In contrast, Harry Potter would be italicized, because the name appears at the beginning of the title of every book in the series.

Step 4 Abbreviate titles for subsequent mentions.

  • For example, if you were writing a paper on The Great Gatsby , you would need to include the full title in your text at least once. If you mentioned the novel more than once, you could use Gatsby as a shortened title.
  • How you shorten the title generally depends on your own judgment. Use a word or words that evoke the title easily in the mind of the reader, without any ambiguity.

Capitalizing Titles

Step 1 Capitalize the first word of the title and subtitle.

  • For example, you might write: "Comedian Steve Martin takes on the art world in his novel An Object of Beauty . Note that the word "an" is capitalized because it is the first word. Otherwise, it would be in lowercase.
  • If the book also has a subtitle, capitalize the first word of the subtitle just as you did the first word of the title.

Step 2 Type articles and prepositions in lowercase.

  • Articles include words such as "a," "an," and "the." Words such as "against," "in," and "to." Note that these words remain in lowercase regardless of their length.

Step 3 Distinguish coordinating conjunctions from subordinating conjunctions.

  • Coordinating conjunctions include words such as "and," "but," "for," and "nor."
  • Subordinating conjunctions include words such as "after," "although," because," "unless," and "until."

Step 4 Capitalize all other words in titles.

  • Example: Storytelling and Mythmaking: Images from Film and Literature

Tip: If you have doubts about the parts of speech of the words in a title, you can check your capitalization using free capitalization checkers available online.

Step 5 Use sentence style for titles in languages other than English.

  • Capitalize all words that would be capitalized in the language the title is written in. For example, since all nouns are capitalized in German, you would capitalize all nouns in a German book title.

Punctuating Titles

Step 1 Include punctuation that is part of the title or subtitle.

  • For example, if a title ends in an exclamation point or a question mark, you would include that punctuation mark at the end of the title. The punctuation mark should be italicized so that your readers understand that it's part of the title, not part of your punctuation.
  • If the book title ends in a question mark or an exclamation point, it's typically not a good idea to use that title at the end of a sentence, because then the punctuation mark at the end of the book title effectively becomes the punctuation mark for the end of your sentence. Recast your sentence so that the book title doesn't fall at the end of the sentence.

Step 2 Separate a subtitle from a title with a colon and a space.

  • There is an exception if the book title includes another book title, and the included book title ends in a question mark or exclamation point. Since that punctuation mark belongs to the included book title, you would follow that punctuation mark with a colon. For example: Moby Dick and Absalom, Absalom! : Two American Masterpieces Note that the colon is italicized.

Step 3 Place a period or comma after a title ending in a dash or ellipsis.

  • For example, you might write: "In the 1980s sitcom When Harry Met Sally. . . , the characters examined whether heterosexual cisgender men and women could be friends without ever becoming romantically or sexually involved."
  • Note that you'll have to form your sentence so that either a comma or a period is appropriate following the ellipsis or a dash.

Tip: Although it might be difficult for the average person to tell whether a punctuation mark such as a comma or period is italicized, technically any punctuation added to the end of the title should not be italicized.

Step 4 Use a semi-colon and the word or to separate alternate titles.

  • For example: England's Monitor; or, The History of Separation . Note that the "or" and all punctuation are also italicized.
  • Generally, list the original or oldest title first, followed by any later title.

Step 5 Add the serial comma if necessary for books published in the US.

  • For example, since the book Everything Is Nothing: The Poetry of the Great War, Revolution and the Transformation of Europe was published in London, the serial comma would not be added. However, if the book were published in the US, you would add a comma after the word "Revolution."

Expert Q&A

You might also like.

Quote and Cite a Poem in an Essay Using MLA Format

Expert Interview

how to write a book title in an essay mla

Thanks for reading our article! If you’d like to learn more about writing, check out our in-depth interview with Annaliese Dunne .

  • ↑ https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/subject_specific_writing/writing_in_literature/writing_about_literature/formatting.html
  • ↑ https://style.mla.org/punctuation-with-titles/
  • ↑ https://style.mla.org/trilogy-titles/
  • ↑ https://style.mla.org/full-names-titles-in-each-chapter/
  • ↑ https://secondary.oslis.org/cite-sources/mla/how-to-capitalize-and-punctuate-titles
  • ↑ https://style.mla.org/capitalization-of-titles/
  • ↑ https://irsc.libguides.com/c.php?g=483085&p=3303403
  • ↑ https://morningside.libguides.com/MLA8/title

About This Article

Annaliese Dunne

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  1. 3 Simple Ways to Write Book Titles in MLA

    1. Italicize book titles in the text of your paper. Designate a book title as separate from the rest of your text by placing the complete title (and subtitle, if it has one) in italics. In contrast, shorter articles, essays, or chapters within the book are enclosed in quotation marks. [1]