Writing Mini-Lessons: Indicating Titles

Another adventure in conventions is how to handle a title when you refer to it in a piece of your writing—whether to quote it, underline/italicize it, or merely capitalize it. As you know, English is as full of exceptions to rules as it is rules themselves.

So, in general, the convention is this: put quotation marks around the titles of shorter works and the titles of parts of longer works. These include short stories, poems, articles, speeches, essays, book chapters, and one-act plays. But you should also put quotes around the titles of TV and radio shows, as well as shorter musical compositions, like songs and piano pieces.

As for underlining: now that so many writers compose on the word processor, when a title calls for underlining, and a word processor gives you the capability of italicizing, please italicize. So, the general rule is to italicize or underline the titles of long works that are complete unto themselves. These include books, pamphlets, magazines, journals, newspapers, moves, long poems (epic poems or book-length poems; e.g., Homer’s The Odyssey), plays, symphonies, operas, ballets, and CD’s. But you should also underline/italicize the given titles of paintings, drawings, and sculptures, as well as the names of ships, aircraft, and spacecraft.

Finally, some literary titles take neither quotation marks nor underlines/italics. These are sacred writings, like the Bible and its books, and the names of series of books. These just require capitalization.

A word about capitalizing titles: capitalize the first word of a title, the last word, and every word in between that conveys meaning. This means that unless they appear at the beginning or end of a title, you won’t capitalize articles (a, an, the), prepositions (about, above, at, before, behind, down, in, near, of, off, on, out, over, to, with, etc.), or short conjunctions (and, but, or, nor, for, yet, also, as, that).

Practice with Indication Titles
Try your hand at indicating titles by correctly indicating the titles in each sentence below. Refer to the general rules for titles. Good luck!

1. I hope that you’ll read Cold Mountain, Charles Frazier’s first novel.
2. Our special song is In My Life by John Lennon.
3. Someday I’d like to sail to England on the Queen Elizabeth 2.
4. Does anyone here subscribe to Sports Illustrated?
5. Camille loved the Babysitter’s Club books when she was in third grade.
6. I have mixed feelings about Queen’s Night at the Opera soundtrack.
7. He cut out and saved Frank Rich’s column from the Saturday New York Times.
8. The best piece in the exhibit was Picasso’s Head of a Woman.
9. The Lottery is recognized as Shirley Jackson’s best short story.
10. I memorized Frost’s Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.
11. The Book of Daniel appears in the Old Testament of the Bible.
12. They went to Boston to see a performance by the National Ballet Company of Swan Lake.
13. He listens to Fresh Air on National Public Radio on the way home from work.
14. We read Billy Collins’ essay The Companionship of a Poem; it was published in The Washington Post.
15. She memorized the complete score and all the dialogue from the Broadway musical Rent.