Should I Use Italics or Quotation Marks? A Style Guide to Formatting Titles

Chicago Manual of Style book cover
When I went to high school, teachers taught us to underline book titles. With the advent of all things digital, that changed. In fact a lot got changed.

What I’m talking about is the stylized treatment of text.

In the world of publishing, there are two style books that pull most of the weight. In the book world, The Chicago Manual of Style is the primary style guide (first published in 1906!). This book contains over 1000 pages and instructs how to handle everything from what to italicize to how to properly use punctuation.

For newspapers and periodicals, The Associated Press Style Guide holds sway.

But let’s not forget The Christian Writer’s Manual of Style used by many Christian publishers and periodicals.

Editors are intimately acquainted with these books. I own all three.

Of course, you needn’t purchase these books, but learning some basics will go a long way in cutting your professional editing costs–and making a good first impression with potential literary agents.

Titles are a consistent point of pain for authors.

What Titles to Italicize

  • Books
  • Magazines
  • CD albums
  • Movies
  • TV shows
  • Radio programs and radio series
  • Plays
  • Operas and long musical compositions
  • Paintings, drawings, photographs, and other works of art
  • Names of newspapers, both domestic and foreign
  • Long poems such as Dante’s Inferno
  • Cartoons and comic strips that occur regularly, such as Peanuts
  • Words you want to emphasize.
    • I told you to do it, not your brother.

This isn’t a complete list, by far, but it should answer the majority of your questions about titles.

What Gets “Quotation Marks” Besides Dialog?

  • Use quotes for a single song title and TV and radio episodes
  • Most poems (unless it falls into the above category of long)
  • Chapter titles
  • Article titles
  • Text directly quoted from other works (be sure to cite your source)

Should I Use a Numeral or Spell It Out?

  • If you’re writing a book, spell out numbers zero through one hundred (the Chicago Manual standard).
  • If you’re writing for newspapers or periodicals, spell out the single digit numbers (the Associated Press standard).
  • The above two guidelines also apply to currency.
  • If a number begins the sentence, always spell it out.
  • When expressing percentages, numerals are used. In general text use percent.
    • Fewer than 10 percent of writers know these rules.
  • In scientific and statistical works use the symbol %.
    • Group A performed 95% higher than Group B.
  • Times of day:
    • For even, quarter, and half hours, spell out.  ~ I boarded the plane at one thirty.
    • When using o’clock, always spell out. ~ My appointment is at nine o’clock.
    • When precise time is required use numerals. ~ The train leaves at 5:52 a.m.


In most cases these guidelines will serve you well and give your manuscript a professional look. Like everything, there are exceptions to the rules—let the publisher or editor worry about those.

Also be aware that every publisher and periodical chooses the style guide they prefer. In addition, they often have what is called house style. House style are exceptions to the general style guide. Those are rules you won’t know unless they tell you, such things as “we follow the Christian Writer’s Manual of Style in that we capitalize pronouns referring to God.”

Don’t let these guides get in your way as you write your draft. Once you enter the final revision stages and prep your book for a professional editor or for submission, then review your manuscript for these items and correct them.

What style or usage issues do you struggle with? List them below and I’ll get you an answer.

FYI: Only one space between sentences nowadays.

Want to get published but don’t know where to start?

Maybe you have a finished manuscript or just an idea stuck in your head. Email me today at Deb [at] DebraLButterfield [dot] com, and let's discuss how I can help you reach your dream of publication.


  1. Very helpful, things we often forget. Thanks for such a useful post.

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