The short answer is: no. You don’t underline book titles in formal writing. But how you do designate book titles in your writing may vary, even from one piece of writing to another. Read on and I’ll explain why.
If you have found yourself Googling “do I underline book titles?” more than once in your life — perhaps several times — don’t feel like you’re alone. This is a question that many individuals, even seasoned writers, find themselves checking and maybe even double checking. Making the topic even more confusing is the fact that you’ve probably seen different sources document book titles in different ways: some italicize them, and some put them in quotation marks. The reason for this is because there’s not a firm answer for how you designate book titles, speaking strictly in grammatical terms. The answer depends entirely upon what style guide you are using for your writing.
What Is a Style Guide?
A style guide is a collection of rules for writing for a particular industry, brand or project that aims to ensure consistency, providing assurance that style conventions are driven by a set of rules and not by individual writers’ personal preferences. Some examples of topics covered in style guides are whether to write out or use the symbol for numbers, whether to capitalize titles, when to use abbreviations, and how to format parenthetical citations.
A List of Common Style Guides
The four most commonly used writing style guides are:
- The Modern Language Association Handbook (MLA) – commonly used in academic writing
- Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (APA) – commonly used in medical and scientific writing
- Associated Press Stylebook (AP) – commonly used by newspapers and in journalism
- Chicago Manual of Style (Chicago) – commonly used in fiction and nonfiction books and publications
So Do I Underline This Book Title in My Writing Or Not?
First, check to see what style guide you are using for your writing. If you don’t have an assigned style, you can use the short list above to pick which style guide you want to use, then stick with it. Remember, no one guide is right or wrong; there are just different guides commonly used within different industries. Here are the rules for underlining book titles, broken down by style guide.
- The Modern Language Association Handbook (MLA) – Titles of books, plays, films, periodicals, databases, and websites are italicized.
- Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (APA) – Titles of books, journals, magazines, and newspapers are italicized.
- Associated Press Stylebook (AP) – Titles of books, movies, operas, poems, songs, works of art, and video games are put in quotation marks.
- Chicago Manual of Style (Chicago) – Titles of books, journals, plays, and other freestanding works are italicized.
Tip to Remember
In writing, you don’t need to underline book titles. Depending on what style guide you’re using, you’ll either italicize book titles or put them in quotation marks. The most important thing is really just to be consistent. So if you italicize a book title on page 2, make sure you also do it on page 5.
Susan is an English educator, editor, and writer who has enjoyed working within these fields since 2004. Her experience includes teaching at the high school and adult continuing education levels, and writing and editing for multiple regional publications, including Wrightsville Beach Magazine and Encore Magazine. Today she is a copywriter and editor for CastleBranch Inc., as well as editor in chief for the company’s internal e-magazine. A Southern transplant who moved from Ohio to North Carolina, she has embraced the word “y’all” and can tell you how she likes her grits. Check out her official website.