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This Guide was created as a joint project of the Academic Resource Center and the William H. Hannon Library.

Directed Learning: Writing Mechanics

Titles: Italics or Quotation Marks?  

Italicize names of books, plays, poems published as books, scholarly journals, magazines, newspapers, pamphlets, websites, films, TV & radio shows, dance performances, operas, CDs (albums), paintings & sculptures, ships, aircraft and spacecraft.  Italicize these titles when you refer to them in your own paper.  Think the whole enchilada! 

For example, Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, Godzilla, New York Times, IMDb, Queen Mary, the Mona Lisa.

When an exclamation mark or question mark is part of a title, make sure that the mark is italicized along with the title:

            My favorite book is Where Have All the Flowers Gone?

            I love Dr. Seuss's Oh, the Places You'll Go!

Use quotation marks for the titles of articles, essays, stories and poems published within larger works, chapters of books, pages in websites, individual episodes of TV and radio shows, short musical compositions such as songs, unpublished words such as lectures and speeches. Think the tortilla or cheese in the enchilada – only a part of the enchilada.  Not the whole thing.

For example, “Mr. Brightside” from the album Hot Fuss, “Burning Questions with Michael Hanover” from The Los Angeles Loyolan

Exceptions: don’t use italics or quotation marks for

       - Scripture: Bible, Old Testament, Genesis, Gospels, Koran, Talmud

       - Laws, acts, political documents: Magna Carta, Declaration of Independence

       - Musical compositions identified by form, number and key: Beethoven’s Symphony no. 7

       - Words designating the divisions of a work: preface, introduction, list of works cited, appendix, scene 7, chapter 2

Remember you only use italics or quotation marks when referring to a title within another document as a cue to the reader.   Do not italicize the title of your own paper. 

Capitalization of Titles and Subtitles 

Capitalize the first word, the last word and all principal words including those that follow hyphens in compound terms.  Do not capitalize articles (a, an, the) unless they are at the beginning of a title or subtitle.  Do not capitalize prepositions (e.g. in, of, to, against, between, during, over). Do not capitalize coordinating conjunctions (and, but, so, or, nor, yet, for).

For example:

            The Teaching of Spanish in English-Speaking Countries

            Storytelling and Mythmaking: Images from Film and Literature

            Life as I Find It

            “What Americans Stand For”

Other Uses of Italics

Italicize words from other languages: arigato, feng shui, dolce, que pasa? 

Do not italicize words that have become part of English:  bourgeois, pasta, laissez-faire, per diem, for example.  If a word is in an English dictionary, it does not need italics.

Italicize names of aircraft, spacecraft, ships, and trains.

            Air Force 1, the Queen Mary, the Silver Zepher

Italicize words, letters, numbers when used as themselves.

            The most commonly used vowel is e and consonant is t.

            The hexadecimal number system does not have a 9.

            Most Asian languages do not have articles such as a, an, or the.

Use italics for emphasis (sparingly).

Other Uses of Quotation Marks

Use quotation marks around definitions. 

            The term selfie means “a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically with a smartphone, and uploaded to a social media website.”

Use quotation marks to signal irony and coinages (words you made up).

            The hunger “banquet” was bread and water.


General rule for MLA*: Spell out numbers written in one or two words (e.g. one, fifteen, forty-six, two hundred).  Write all other numbers with numerals (e.g. 3 ½, 204, 1,458).  

*APA citation style has slightly different rules regarding numbers.  Please see

Number Exceptions:

       - Spell out centuries in lowercase letters: the twentieth century, the eighteenth century.

       - Use a hyphen when the century acts as an adjective: eighteenth-century thought.

       - Decades are written out with NO capitalization: the nineties, the sixties.

       - Decades can also be expressed in numerals: the 1990s, the ‘60s.

       - Use numbers in divisions: page 7, year 3 of the study, chapter 11

       - Never begin a sentence with a number: Two thousand twelve is an election year.

       - For large numbers, use a combination of words and numerals: 4.5 million

       - For percentages and amounts of money use numbers and symbols: 1%, 200%, $35, $2,000

Names of Persons

General rule: The first time you use a person’s name in your paper, state the complete name as it appears in your source. Thereafter, use only the last name.  Do not use titles such as Dr. or Prof.  Exception:  APA style prefers the last name only be used.

Directed Learning Activity: Writing Mechanics

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