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Formatting Titles in Academic Documents

Although proofreading and formatting are different, they overlap in some respects. For instance, when an essay names a source in the text, it is standard for the proofreader to ensure its title is appropriately formatted. Let’s take a look at how formatting titles works.

Italics and Quote Marks

Formatting titles in the text of a document is not about making them look attractive, but rather one of conforming to referencing conventions. The exact rules for how to do this will therefore depend on the system or style guide your client is using. However, in most systems, there are two main ways of formatting titles: italics and quotation marks.

We won’t go into any detail about particular style manuals or referencing styles here. But we will look at how italics and quotation marks are generally used with titles, including the types of source to which you would typically apply either approach.

When to Use Italics

Titles are typically italicised when they refer to longer sources that have been published as standalone works. These include:

  • Books
  • Journals
  • Newspapers
  • Magazines
  • Websites and blogs
  • Films
  • TV shows
  • Plays
  • Book-length poems
  • Works of visual art
  • Music albums

When to Use Quotation Marks

Quotation marks are typically used for shorter works, particularly those that form part of a larger whole. These include:

  • Chapters of books
  • Journal articles
  • Newspaper or magazine articles
  • Pages of a website
  • Blog posts
  • Episodes of a TV show
  • Shorter poems
  • Short stories
  • Songs

When You’re Not Sure

The rules above can serve as general guidelines when you don’t have a style guide to work with. But remember to ask the client before you do this, as you may find they’re using a different system with different rules about how to format titles. It’s also worth learning the rules of a few of the major style guides, as they can seem confusing at first glance!

APA, for example, recommends using italics for titles of longer works (e.g. books) in both the main text and in the reference list. But it only places quote marks around the title of a shorter work (e.g. a journal article) when it appears in the main text. As such, if you are editing a document and the client has asked you to use APA style, you will need to be careful about how you format the titles of shorter works in different parts of the document.

Of course, even if you know the system your client is using, it’s not always easy. It may be that you can’t work out the source type from the information in a document alone, meaning you don’t know how to format the title. If this happens, though, you can look the source up online or ask the client for more information. And if you’re not familiar with your client’s referencing system, you can look online for guidance or ask for a style guide.