Quotes or Italics? Citing Titles of Books, Movies & TV Shows


When citing titles of songs, books, movies or tv shows, should you place them in italics or quotation marks? The answer is, ‘It depends.’

There are certain things you need to know if you’re writing about your favorite song, novel, film or television series. Some people insist that when citing titles, you should use italics. Others get bent out of shape and insist that’s wrong and that you should put quotes around them instead. There’s an easy way to know which to use when you cite book, movie and TV show titles.

But the fact that there’s an easy way doesn’t mean it’s one you’ll like.

In fact, it all boils down to the style guide you use. If you’re in school, there’s almost certainly a style guide your school prefers. Professionally, you don’t necessarily have to be a journalist to face the quirks of a style guide.

Unfortunately, different style guides offer different rules. So here’s a sampling of how a few of them differ.

AP Style

I’m going to start with the Associated Press Style Book because that’s the one I use in my professional job. It’s also the one I mostly rely on for this blog, although here I may deviate occasionally.

AP makes everything simple when it comes to citing such titles. But you may not agree with their simplicity.

Don’t feel bad: A lot of us who use AP Style don’t always agree with everything they come up with. I could make a list.

The Perdue Writing Lab says you use quotation marks in AP Style. You’ll note in that last sentence I listed that source in bold. That’s not AP Style, but I think for a blog, it’s nice when you make bold a source that you’re actually hyperlinking to. So if you follow AP Style and can’t deviate, don’t use bold, either.

AP Style dictates that you should put quotation marks around books, songs, television shows, computer games, articles, poems, lectures, speeches and works of art. Don’t put quotation marks around titles of magazines, newspapers, books that are catalogs of reference materials or the Bible.

AP’s dislike of italics dates back to the old printing presses. It was impractical to stock more letters for italics. I doubt that any newspapers still rely on old-fashioned linotype machines. In this computer age, why can’t we just italicize?

Hey, that’s not up to me. So until AP changes that rule, stick with quotes: forget you even have the option of italics…if AP Style is your style guide.

MLA Style

If you’re in academia, you probably rely on the Modern Language Association’s style guide, which you’ve probably only ever heard of as “MLA Style.”

Like most guides other than AP, MLA mixes it up a bit. Northern Arizona University sums it up nicely in their MLA resource page.

But let me give you a snapshot: Book, movie and TV show titles go in italics. Individual episodes of TV shows go in quotation marks:

Newspaper and magazine names go in italics. But names of broadcast networks are merely capitalized.

Albums and musicals are set in italics. Individual song titles go in quotes.

APA Style

The one I find most curious is the style guide of the American Psychological Association. Since I doubt most of you have to deal with this one, which is more often used in academic medical papers, I won’t spend a lot of time on this one.

If you do use APA Style, I appreciate you. You make me realize that my gripes with AP Style may not be so bad after all.

What bothers me about APA Style is its rule of using sentence case for show titles in citations. AP Style would call Rod Serling’s famous program “The Twilight Zone.” MLA would style it as The Twilight Zone. But in citations, APA styles it as The twilight zone. Only the first word is capitalized.

Your mileage (and style guide) may vary.

The best advice I can give you here is to check the style guide that you use.

If you don’t use a style guide, the one that makes the most sense to me in the 21st century would be MLA, in which you italicize book, newspaper, magazine, album, movie and TV shows and put episode and song titles in quotes.

That practice, I think, makes the most sense to most readers without being distracting. I don’t think AP’s rule about putting everything in quotes confuses anyone, but I think italics look better.

As for APA, well, if the sentence case TV show titles rule makes sense to you, more power to you. I can’t see that as anything but a mistake!

But again, you should either consult the style guide you’re required to use or codify your own policy for such instances. That way, you remain consistent whenever you write.

That’s always a good thing.

the authorPatrick
Patrick is a Christian with more than 30 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.