Intensive Purposes: Punctuating Titles

writing editing essay

writing editing essay

Determining how to punctuate the title of a book can feel like a complete and utter mystery. Do you use quotation marks? Italics? Underline it? There are too many options! Luckily, today we’re going to demystify the art of punctuating titles of works, be they novels, short stories, movies, or anything in between.

There are two general rules to keep in mind:

1. If a title should be italicized but you are handwriting it versus typing it, underline the phrase instead. Discerning italics in handwriting is difficult, so the underline takes its place in handwriting only.

2. Long works get italicized; short works or parts of longer works get quotation marks.

What do I mean by “long” and “short” works? Long works are just what they sound like, and what you likely think of when the word “title” first comes to mind. Novels, for example, are long works. Movies are long works, too. Conversely, short stories are short works, as are the names of television episodes, for instance.

So what does this all look like in terms of grammar, then?

I’m currently reading Vicious by V.E. Schwab.

LOST was a wonderful yet weird television show, of which one of my favorite individual episodes is “Live Together, Die Alone”.

Neil Gaiman’s most recent short story collection, Trigger Warning, contains the chilling story, “Click Clack the Rattlebag”.

Long works. Short works. Easier to remember now, right?

A play on the misquoted phrase “for all intents and purposes”, Intensive Purposes tackles one grammar rule or English language tip — from proper punctuation to misused phrases — in an easy-to-understand mini-lesson. 
  • Huh, I had no idea that underlining titles was only for handwriting, even though I’ve done it myself a million times! Thanks for this post, Kristin aka grammar guru!

    • You are very welcome 🙂

  • Kay

    This is wonderful! I always just made it up when typing titles; I’m quite excited to be doing it properly in my posts from now on!

    • I was always told to underline when writing, but computers changed a lot. Plus, it seems like no teacher ever explained the long vs. short title thing (until I found out while student teaching, that is!) You just have great intuition 🙂