How to Punctuate Titles (books, songs, CDs, magazines, articles) When Referred to In Text

One frequently asked question about grammar is how to punctuate titles, and there are a couple of different aspects to title punctuation. I want to start first with how to punctuate titles in a text, such as whether or not to underline, italics or quote (single or double quotes) the title, or how to do it when there’s more than one title, or it’s a work of art, etc.

There is a ‘big’ and ‘little’ rule when deciding how to punctuate titles. There is a ‘big’ thing and a ‘little’ thing when it comes to things like books, magazines, CDs/albums, etc.

  • The big thing is the book; the little thing is the chapter.
  • The big thing is the album; the little thing is the song.
  • The big thing is the magazine; the little thing is an article title.

Okay, now that we have that, let’s look at how to punctuate them:

The BIG things are put in italics and the little things are put in quotes, particularly when they appear together in a sentence or text.

Example: Duran Duran was a band in the ’80s that released an album called Seven and the Ragged Tiger, in which the song “The Reflex” appears.

Keep in mind, when using the MLA style guide (one of the older style guides), considers that italics and underline means the same thing. One reason for this is because in some typefaces, italics are hard to see, and underline is easier to see, and thus typesetters won’t accidentally miss it. In print, in particular, you might still see it underlined. These essentially are interchangeable – but always follow the publication’s guidelines or use the style guide they suggest when writing for them.

As for publications, the books is the ‘big’ thing so it is italics, while any chapters or individual works (like in a book of poetry), would be quotes. The same for magazines. The magazine’s name is italics, but the articles inside the magazine are quotes.

Works of art, such as painting or sculpture or photgraph names are italicized, if they are stand alone works of art. Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, Michealangelo’s David.

Now, photographs are slightly different since they very rarely stand alone. Generally speaking a photograph is either attached to another work, like a story, or included in a book of photographs. If this is the case, the photograph is a ‘little thing’ and its title would be in quotes. If, however, the photograph is framed, is sold separately as its own work of art, then it is italicized.

I’ll talk in a future blog about how to use upper and lower case and periods, commas, quotes, dashes, colons and such inside a title, so stay tuned.

Until then – just use this rule when punctuating titles in text:

BIG things are italics (or underline)
Little things are quotes

Have a great day!

Love and stuff,