Punctuating Titles in Italics or Quotes

While typing up a research project, you may have wondered: Do I italicize a song title? What about a painting?​ Even the most experienced writers have difficulty remembering the proper punctuation for specific titles. Books are italicized, and articles are put in quotation marks. That’s about as far as people can remember.​

Many teachers require learners to use Modern Language Association style for studies and essays on language arts, cultural studies, and the humanities. However, there is a trick to learning how to treat titles in MLA; it works well enough to commit types of titles to memory. It’s the big and little trick.

Large Stuff vs. Small Stuff

Big stuff that can stand on its own is italicized. Small stuff that is dependent or comes as a group piece, placed in quotation marks. Think of an album as a primary (extensive) work that can be divided into minor parts or songs. The individual song names are punctuated with quotation marks.

For instance:

  • The Sweet Escape, by Gwen Stefani, includes the song “Wind It Up.”

We know this is not the best rule, but it can help determine whether to italicize or envelop an item in quotation marks when you have no resources.

Furthermore, italicize or underline any printed collection, like a book of poetry. Place individual entries, like a poem, in quotation marks. A long, epic poem that is often published on its own would be handled like a book. The Odyssey is one example.

Punctuating Works of Art

Making a work of art is an immense task. For You can think of art as a significant accomplishment. That might sound corny, but it will help you remember. Individual works of art, like sculptures, are underlined or italicized:

  • Michelangelo’s David
  • Mona Lisa
  • The Last Supper
  • The Pieta

Note that a photograph—although not any less significant or essential—is often much smaller than a work of art and is positioned in quotation marks. Below you will find some guidelines for punctuating titles according to MLA standards.

Italicizing Titles and Names

  • A novel
  • A ship
  • A play
  • A film
  • A painting
  • A sculpture or statue
  • A drawing
  • A CD
  • A TV Series
  • A cartoon series
  • An encyclopedia
  • A magazine
  • A newspaper
  • A pamphlet

Titles to Put Into Quotation Marks:

  • A poem
  • A short story
  • A skit
  • A commercial
  • An individual episode in a TV series (like “The Soup Nazi” on Seinfeld)
  • A cartoon episode, like “Trouble With Dogs”
  • A chapter
  • An article
  • A newspaper story

More Tips on Punctuating Titles

  • Religious works, like the Bible or the Koran
  • Buildings
  • Monuments


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