Underline Essays

Which Titles Are Italicized and Which Are Enclosed in Quotation Marks?

by Tina Blue

January 4, 2001

There are only a few simple rules to follow when deciding how to punctuate a title that occurs within a body of prose.

NOTE:The title of an article or essay is not enclosed in quotation marks, italicized or underlined at the top of the page. The reason for punctuating a title that occurs in a body of prose is to set it off and to identify it as a title. When the title of an article or an essay appears over the article, its position is sufficient to identify it as the title.


     ~Italics are used primarily to punctuate the titles of full-length works that are published separately.  There are also a couple of specialized uses for italics with titles.

1. The titles of book-length works that are published separately are italicized. This includes books, full-length plays, if published separately, and long poems, if published separately:
Novel:  One Hundred Years of Solitude
Play:  Death of a Salesman
Long Poem:  Paradise Lost

     2. The titles of works that include shorter works are italicized. This includes anthologies and collections of songs, poems, short stories, short plays, and essays.

    3. The titles of newspapers and magazines are italicized.

    4. Technically, the titles of movies and television shows should be italicized, because individual scenes and episodes may have their own titles, which would be enclosed in quotation marks. The influence of newspaper reviewers, however, has undermined this principle, so you are likely to find the titles of movies and television shows enclosed in quotation marks.

    5. The names of ships, trains, airplanes and spacecraft are italicized, but not H.M.S. or U.S.S.:

U.S.S. Nimitz
H.M.S. Pinafore 
Starship Enterprise
Orient Express


  ~Quotation marks are used to punctuate titles of short works and parts of other works--i.e., titles of those works that are not published separately.
1. Chapter titles are enclosed in quotation marks (but not chapter numbers).
2. The titles of short stories are enclosed in quotation marks.
3. The titles of short poems are enclosed in quotation marks.
4. The titles of newspaper and magazine articles are enclosed in quotation marks.
5. The titles of essays are enclosed in quotation marks.
6. The title of a longer work that would be italicized if it were published separately (e.g., Paradise Lost or a play) would be enclosed in quotation marks if the work is included in a longer collection or anthology. For example, a collection of works by John Milton might be entitled The Complete Works of John Milton, and the title of the poem Paradise Lost or the drama Samson Agonistes, though they would usually be italicized, would be enclosed in quotation marks when reference was being made to the edition of which they were merely a part.


Long ago and in a galaxy far, far away, people had to type their work, or even write it out longhand. Unless you had your own printing press, you couldn't do italics. Therefore, when something needed to be italicized, that fact was represented by underlining. In other words, underlining something is equivalent to italicizing it, so it is not proper to both italicize and underline a title. (And, as with italics and quotation marks, titles are not underlined at the head of an essay or article.)

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The following checklist addresses all of the important aspects of formatting that you should consider before submitting your essay. While the recommendations here reflect the expectations of most professors, some may prefer that you follow their own essay guidelines. Consult with your professor if you have any questions about the formatting of your paper.

Word Processing

Your essays should always be neat and easy to read. When you use a word processor, use left justification and choose a standard font (e.g., Times New Roman 12 pt.). If you use a typewriter, make sure that it produces dark, clear letters. Print or type on plain white 8 1/2" X 11" paper.


While professors have the authority to require that you submit a printed copy of your essays, some professors will accept handwritten work. Consult your professor if you have questions about what is acceptable in his/her course. If you handwrite your essay, write neatly (in blue or black ink) on lined paper, and space, number, and format your pages according to the following guidelines.


Whether you word process, type, or handwrite your paper, you should always double-space the text of your essay, including indented quotations, the works cited list, and any endnotes or footnotes.

Page Numbers

Number your pages in the upper right-hand corner, starting with the first page of your text. (Do not include title pages or outlines in the numbering). The page number is usually 1/2" from the top of the page or two lines above the top line of your text. Most word processing programs have a tool which inserts page numbers for you.

Do not put an abbreviation (e.g., p.14) before your page numbers. You may, however, type your last name before the page number to prevent confusion or loss (e.g., Johnson 14).

Underlining or Italics

Underline or italicize titles of books, plays, films, long poems, magazines, CD-ROMs and any work usually published by itself. The main exceptions are the titles of sacred books (e.g., the books of the Bible, the Koran), titles of series (e.g., the Loeb Classical Library), and political documents (e.g., The Treaty of Versailles).

Do not underline or italicize the title of a work if it occurs within an underlined title (e.g., the title of a book about another book). For example, Maxine Hong Kingston's The Woman Warrior is not underlined or italicized in the title of Shirley Geok-lin Lim's Approaches to teaching Kingston's The Woman Warrior.

While underlining and italics represent the same thing, the MLA Handbook recommends that students underline in their papers because italic type is less distinctive (Gibaldi 75). Some professors, however, accept (or prefer) italics. Whether you choose to underline or italicize, you should always be consistent throughout your paper. In this guide, we use italics.

Quotation Marks

Put quotation marks around titles of short works--such as poems, short stories, and essays--which are normally published only as part of a collection with a separate title. Note that when an anthology includes large works (e.g., novels, plays), you should still underline or italicize their titles. Hamlet does not become "Hamlet" in even the biggest anthology.


You should underline or italicize foreign words and phrases or words and phrases that need emphasis.

In contrast, use quotation marks around words deliberately misused or used in a special sense, words referred to as words, or parenthetical translations or definitions. Do not use quotation marks or bolding for emphasis.

Title Page

Unless your instructor requires a separate title page, put the following on your first page, double-spaced, starting at the top left corner:

Start the text of your essay four spaces under the last line of your title. Indent each paragraph a single tab (equivalent to five spaces), but do not put extra space between paragraphs.

Sequence of Parts

  • title page (only if your instructor requires it)
  • an outline (only if your instructor requires it)
  • the text of your essay
  • notes (if any)
  • a list of works cited or a list of works you consulted while preparing your essay


Fasten the pages of your paper with a paper clip. Do not staple them or fasten them in a folder of any kind.

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