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Proofreading Tips: Titles of Other Works in APA Style

The APA Publication Manual is widely used in academic writing, especially in the social and behavioral sciences. If you’re proofreading this type of writing, you need to know how to format titles of other works (e.g., books or papers your client mentions) in APA style.

Here, then, we’ll offer some advice for proofreaders on the following:

  • Where APA style suggests using title case and sentence case capitalization.
  • How APA style formats titles of other works in different parts of a text.

Read on for more on titles below, or check out this post for tips on punctuation in APA style.

Title Case and Sentence Case in APA Style

In academic work, authors often need to mention titles of other works. This could be to discuss them directly (e.g., in a paper analyzing another thinker’s work). Or it could be just to reference them or mention them in passing (e.g., adding an article in a reference list).

However, APA style uses two types of capitalization in different places:

1. Title case is used for titles of other works in the main text of a document, as well as for the title of your client’s paper (and all section titles, subheadings, table names, and figure names in their work). This means capitalizing the first letters of:

  • The first word in titles and subtitles.
  • All major words (i.e., nouns, verbs, pronouns, adjectives, and adverbs).
  • All words four or more letters long, including conjunctions and prepositions.
  • Any proper nouns or proper names in titles.

2. Sentence case is used for titles of other works in an APA reference list, along with table column headings within your client’s paper. This means capitalizing only:

  • The first word in titles and subtitles.
  • Any proper nouns or proper names in titles.

The same title can thus be capitalized differently in different places. As a proofreader, then, you will need to check your client has used the right capitalization style in the right places. Any errors in this respect will need correcting in line with APA rules.

Formatting Titles in APA

APA style also uses multiple approaches to presenting the titles of other works: italics, quotation marks, and roman type (i.e., a standard, non-italic typeface). The correct choice will depend on the type of work referenced and where the title appears in the text:

  • Italics – APA style uses italics for the titles of standalone works (e.g., books, journals, newspapers, television series) in both the main text and in reference lists.
  • Quotation marks – For shorter works that are part of a whole (e.g., book chapters, articles from journals or magazines, or episodes from a television show), APA style suggests placing titles within quotation marks in the main text only.
  • Roman script – In an APA reference list, titles of shorter works should be given in roman type (i.e., without quotation marks or italics). The same applies for names of series of books or films in the main text of a document (e.g., the Star Wars movies).

The tricky one here is titles of shorter works, since they vary depending on where they are used (i.e., in quote marks in the main text, but in roman type in reference lists).

If you’re not sure what format a title requires from your client’s text alone (e.g., it doesn’t indicate if it is a book or an article in the main text and you don’t have the reference list), you can look it up online, but it’s usually safer to leave a comment asking your client to check.

Examples of Titles in APA Style

To show you how the above would look in practice, we’ll give some examples below.

For a standalone work, such as a book, in the main text of a document using APA style, a correctly formatted title would be presented in title case and italics like this:

We see this in A. E. Houseman’s The Name and Nature of Poetry (1933/2006).

In the reference list, meanwhile, the title would keep the italics but use sentence case:

Housman, A. E. (2006). The name and nature of poetry. The Housman Society. (Original work published 1933)

However, for a work that is part of a larger whole, such as a journal article, the style differs between the main text and reference list. In the main text, titles of works like these should be presented in title case and within quotation marks. For example:

Adam M. Croom (2015) suggests poetry therapy as a treatment for a variety of ailments in “The Practice of Poetry and the Psychology of Well-Being.”

But in the reference list, authors should use sentence case and roman type:

Croom, A. M. (2015). The practice of poetry and the psychology of well-being. Journal of Poetry Therapy, 28(1), 21–41. https://doi.org/10.1080/08893675.2015.980133

If you see titles that don’t follow these guidelines and your client has asked you to use APA style while proofreading, either make a correction or leave a comment as appropriate.

Becoming A Proofreader

If you want to learn more about style guides and academic writing so you can work as a freelance proofreader and editor, try a free trial of our Becoming A Proofreader course.

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