Titles

Introduction

Title Example Faded

The second section of a works cited entry is the title. The hardest part of working with titles is knowing how to format them.

Basic Formatting

Let’s say you want to cite the following book:

Title Example

The first task is to know where the title begins and ends. In this case, the blurb under the picture is merely a bit of advertising. Our entry would therefore start as follows:

Higginsbottom, Bernard. Write out of the Box.

We removed most of the capital letters and capitalized only key words. Because this is a book title, we also added italics. In other words, with any title we want to remove the original formatting and apply our own.

In the following sections we will take a closer look at specific formatting conventions.

Subtitles

If a title has a subtitle, be sure to include it in your entry. Say you have read Hillary Chuckle’s fascinating article in the journal ROFL:

Title Example 2

You would start your citation as follows:

Chuckle, Hillary. “Ventriloquizing the Belly Laugh: An Ethnographic Perspective.”

If there is no colon yet between the title and subtitle, you can add one.

Capitalization

You do not need to capitalize the following parts of speech unless they are the first word in your title or come right after the colon:

  • Articles (a, an, the)
  • Prepositions (e.g., with, in, of, beside)
  • Coordinating conjunctions (and, but, for, nor, or, so, yet)
  • The to in infinitives (e.g., to love, to be)

If we take our previous example, we can now see why “An” is capitalized (it comes right after the colon), whereas “the” is not:

Chuckle, Hillary. “Ventriloquizing the Belly Laugh: An Ethnographic Perspective.”

For more examples, check out the other sections on this page.

Italics and Quotation Marks

You may have noticed that some titles are in italics and others are in quotation marks. Italics are used for longer works and quotation marks for shorter ones. Here is a handy chart to show the difference:

Italics Quotation Marks
book article or essay
novella (published by itself) novella (published in a collection)
play short story
longer musical composition poem or song
television show or series webpage or post
film
website
CD or DVD title

If you use quotation marks, place your final period before the last quotation mark:

Jolly, Brian. “Winnie the Pooh and Eating Disorders.”

Titles within Titles

Sometimes one title becomes part of another. Here is a rundown of how you should format such entries.

1. A title in italics inside a title in quotation marks:

“What Optometrists Can Learn from The Great Gatsby.” (an article about a novel)

2. A title in quotation marks inside another title in quotation marks:

“The Symbolism of Monocles in ‘Le Monocle de Mon Oncle’ and ‘Colonel Fazackerly Butterworth-Toast.’” (an article about two poems)

Notice the use of single quotation marks around the poem titles.

3. A title in quotation marks inside a title in italics:

From the Bizarre to the Bazaar: Modernism, Orientalism, and James Joyce’s “Araby.(a book about a short story)

Notice that the entire title is italicized.

4. A title in italics inside another title in italics:

An Introduction to Butlering, with Examples from Downton Abbey and The Remains of the Day (a book title that references a television series and a novel)

The titles inside the overall titles are in regular font.

Missing Titles

If a source has no title, you can make one up! Well, to be exact, you can provide a general description:

Clay, Paul. Red painting with a blue stripe. Museum of Modern Art, Manchester.

In such cases, capitalize the first word and any proper nouns. Use regular font.

Adding a description is also appropriate for things like prefaces, afterwords, and the like:

Smart, Oscar. Preface. Prenuptials for Dummies, by Miriam Willows, Harmony Press, 2019, pp. v-xii.

Your description may make reference to another title. This is useful for untitled reviews:

Moss, Stephanie. Review of The Brotherhood of the Stay-at-Home Dads, by Harold Humber. Filch’s Review of Books, 8 Aug. 2017, www.filchesrob.com/book-reviews/brotherhood-dads.

For tweets, provide the entire message as the title:

Prudhomme, Jacques [@synderesis93]. “Just bought a BMW!! #ChristmasinJuly, #Notfeelingguilty.” Twitter, 25 July 2020, twitter.com/synderesis93/status/8780982734.

Notice that you can keep the original formatting of the text.

For private communication, use a description as the title, naming yourself as the recipient–either by name or as “author”:

Lacy, Sandra. E-mail to the author. 8 Nov. 2015.

Lacy, Sandra. E-mail to Manina Sprocket. 8 Nov. 2015.

 


For more information on titles, see chapters 2 and 5 of the MLA Handbook (9th ed.).