How do you write a book title in a paper

Essays in literature often refer to the title of the book referenced. A reference to the book title may occur only once, but it gives the reader of your essay information about the subject of your discussion.

Explore this article

  • MLA Style
  • APA Style

1 MLA Style

In an MLA-formatted essay, the title of a book should appear in italics. In the case of a handwritten essay, the title of the book should be underlined. Novels, textbooks and anthologies should all be italicized, while portions of these books, including chapters, short stories and poems, are noted within quotes.

2 APA Style

In an essay formatted in APA style, the title of a book also appears in italics. Additionally, any words in the title that are four letters or longer should be capitalized. Italicization is also required for edited collections of short stories and essays, movies, television series, documentaries and albums.


  • 1 Purdue University Online Writing Lab: Writing in Literature: Formatting
  • 2 Purdue University Online Writing Lab: APA Formatting and Style Guide: In-Text Citations: The Basics

About the Author

Based in Los Angeles, Jana Sosnowski holds Master of Science in educational psychology and instructional technology, She has spent the past 11 years in education, primarily in the secondary classroom teaching English and journalism. Sosnowski has also worked as a curriculum writer for a math remediation program. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in print journalism from the University of Southern California.

APA's Publication Manual (2020) indicates that, in the body of your paper, you should use italics for the titles of:

  • "books, reports, webpages, and other stand-alone works" (p. 170)
  • periodicals (journals, magazines, newspapers)

Beyond APA's specific examples, know that certain types of titles are almost always written in italics. 

A general rule of thumb is that within the text of a paper, italicize the title of complete works but put quotation marks around titles of parts within a complete work. 

The table below isn't comprehensive, but it's a good starting point

Titles in ItalicsTitles Placed in "Quotation Marks"Title of a periodical (magazine, journal, newspaper)              Title of article in a periodicalTitle of a book   Title of a chapter in a bookTitle of a movie or playName of an act or scene in a movie or a playTitle of a television or radio series   Title of an episode within a tv or radio seriesTitle of a musical album or CDTitle of a songTitle of a long poemTitle of a short poemNames of operas or long musical compositionNames of paintings and sculptures

Title of a short story

On an APA-style reference page, the rules for titles are a little different.  In short, a title you would italicize within the body of a paper will also be italicized on a reference page.  However, a title you'd place in quotation marks within the body of the paper (such as the title of an article within a journal) will be written without italics and quotation marks on the references page.

Here are some examples:

Smith's (2001) research is fully described in the Journal of Higher Education.

Smith's (2001) article "College Admissions See Increase" was published in the Journal of Higher Education after his pivotal study on the admissions process.

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One of the most annoying cases in writing is formatting the book titles. Whenever you mention the source in your paper, you face the question: how you must write a book title in an essay this time? Of course, there are rules – separate for each format, and more exclusions of particular cases of usage. It is excellent if you have a comprehensive reference at hand to consult, but it is not always possible.

Mentioning the book titles on writing is a frequent problem. If you mention them in an essay or other research paper, there will be regulations for APA, MLA, Chicago, and so on. It is a primary requirement of the academic writing style that you can’t ignore. The core of the problem is, there are several ways of formatting these titles, and very often, you have to use both in one text.

Scared? Don’t be. We’ve prepared this manual to describe how to write book titles in academic papers for every case.

Do You Underline, Italicize Book Titles or Put Them in Quotations?

The Word text editor gives you plenty of means for the text formatting in writing. You can mark it by the size, by the font type, by color, and so. All the achievements of technical progress are for you to distinguish a text fragment from the rest. However, the variety of identifying means without rules would turn any text into an unreadable mess.

Unifying let us develop the standards and make the written text neat. The same rules apply to the process of writing. Initially, there were three traditional methods: 

  • Underlining the text;
  • Italicizing the text;
  • Putting the text in quotations.

With time, the practice of underlining became obsolete. In fact, it was a pre-Word way that is not needed anymore.

When you check how to write a book title in an essay now, remember: it is either to italicize or to put the title in quotation. Underlining is extremely rare.  

Now, let’s see when and where you apply all these methods. 

  • Underlining. It is an old method that is replaced by new options, almost everywhere. Still, some professors demand to indicate the titles in essays this way. Thus, the rule is simple: use the underlining method for the book titles mentioned in essays if there is a direct requirement to do so. Another case is a handwritten essay – this method applies there. However, the situation is even rarer.
  • Italicizing. It is the most common way to mark the book and magazine titles in writing. The rule applies to the titles of full works. It could be a single book, or a magazine, or a newspaper, and so on. One more case refers to the book series names consisting of several completed novels. e.g., Gone with the Wind, The Washington Post, A Song of Ice and Fire
  • Quotation marks. The method applies to “shorter works” and “parts of the whole.” The titles of works demanding the quotation marks are short stories, articles, poems, or book chapters. Note a specific case of usage: the full book’s title is in quotation marks if that book is a part of a series, and the name of the series is present there.  e.g., “Bird-Understander” by Craig Arnold, “The Furnished Room” by O Henry, the novel “Small Gods” from the Discworld series 

How to Put a Book Title in an Essay According to Citation Styles

To refer a book title in an essay is crucial because of formatting demands. Every essay assignment includes the requirements for the formatting style that the student must obey. While the rules of formatting are similar for the entire text, the real challenge comes for citations. 

Incorrect formatting of reference is often equated to the absence of the citation, which is not a minor issue to omit. If you don’t specify that you refer to someone else’s words, it stands for plagiarism. Thus, check the style formatting rules when you put a book title in an essay and be extra careful.  

For in-text citations, when you mention someone’s data, you mostly use the author’s name together with the number of the page in that source. It helps to find the original quickly. If you need to name the full title of the source, the rules will be different.  

APA Style

APA is the most favored formatting style in colleges and universities – it is often the default style. 

The main characteristic feature to note is are: 

  • Use quotation marks for the single book title mentioned in the text – not italics;
  • The first word of the title is capitalized, as well as all terms longer than four symbols. Note that it applies to the two-component words with hyphens – both parts should be capitalized.  

e.g., “A Hat Full of Sky” by Terry Pratchett 

“The Confidence-Man” by Herman Melville

MLA Style

MLA is the default choice for the essays in English, literature, and other humanities. The book title in the MLA-formatted essay should match the following rules:

  • The title of the single book or a journal must be in italics;
  • If the source is a part of a more significant collection (a book chapter or a novel from the series). Then, it must be in quotation marks and not italicized.

e.g., The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle

“A Scandal in Bohemia” from The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle

Chicago Style

Chicago style refers to the book titles in the way similar to MLA:

  • The title of a single book is in italics;
  • The title of a particle belonging to the whole (a book chapter, etc.) is in quotations. 

e.g., The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu

“The Audience” is chapter 3 of The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas.

Exceptions for Emphasizing Titles

Exceptions are integral parts of any rule, and you should remember them. In our case, the case worth mentioning when you write a book title in the essay relates to poetry:

A poem is usually a short piece. Besides, most lyrics are parts of collections. Thus, you apply the standard rule of putting the title in quotes without italics for the poem’s title.

e.g., “The Pilgrim” by Adam Mickiewicz

However, the exclusion takes place when you deal with long and sophisticated poems – a verse novel. In this case, you should italicize it. 

e.g., The Ring and the Book by Robert Browning

Punctuation in the Title

One more specific case with writing a book title is using punctuation. The rule is simple: 

If the punctuation sign is a part of the title itself – you include it into the formatting string. 

e.g., I took Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? From the library. 

I remember that story, and it was “Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?” by Agatha Christie.

If the title does not have punctuation signs of its own, make sure to leave the symbols in your sentence outside of the book title: 

e.g., Could you show me your edition of The Lord of the Rings?  

Did you read the “For Whom the Bell Tolls”?

Need Help Formatting Your Paper?

We hope that our manual was of help, and you’ll always know how to write a book title, no matter which formatting style you must apply to your essay. If you aren’t sure and can’t afford to miss an issue in formatting, you can order this service. Our professional editors will take your paper and ensure its excellent look and match for all the formatting requirements.