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Titles of Other Works in AP Style

AP style – as set out in The Associated Press Stylebook – is commonly used in business writing and journalism. But did you know that the AP Stylebook has advice on how to present titles of other works, such as books, films, and musical compositions?

It’s important to be aware of these rules so you know what to look for when proofreading. Here, then, we’re going to look at how to present titles of other works in AP style, including:

  • How to capitalize titles of other works in AP style.
  • When to place titles of other works in quotation marks.
  • How to approach titles of non-English works in AP style.

For more on all of the above, read our full guide below.

Title Capitalization in AP Style

AP style suggests capitalizing all words in titles of other works except:

  • The definite and indefinite articles (i.e., “the,” “a,” and “an”).
  • Prepositions with three or fewer letters.
  • Conjunctions with three or fewer letters.

However, there are some cases when these words are capitalized in AP style, too.

The most common is when one of the words above is the first or last word in a title:

A Guide to Adulthood: Why We Should All Grow Up

But AP style also suggests capitalizing these terms when they are part of a phrasal verb, or when it is a “to” before an infinitive. These can be hard to spot, so errors are common.

For instance, compare the use of “to” in the following titles:

How To Dance at Wedding Parties

A Journey to the Beyond

In the first, “to” precedes the infinitive verb “dance,” so it is capitalized (in line with AP style). But the second “to” is just a standard preposition, indicating a destination, so it wouldn’t need correction. Keep an eye on how words are used in titles when proofreading.

When to Place Titles in Quotation Marks

While many style guides use italics for some titles and quotation marks for others, the AP Stylebook recommends placing all titles of other works in quotation marks. For instance, if an author mentions a book in a piece of AP style writing, they would present it as follows:

We spoke to Ramirez about his new book, “How to Use Quotation Marks.”

When proofreading, then, check that titles are presented in quotation marks (and that your client has used the same style of quotation mark consistently for both titles and regular quotations). If following AP style closely, this will require double quotation marks (since AP style focuses on US English). However, some writers will adapt this to fit their chosen dialect.

In addition, some works don’t require quotation marks around their titles, including:

  • Holy books like the Quran, the Bible, and the Torah.
  • Reference works such as dictionaries, encyclopedias, and catalogs.
  • Apps, websites, software, and games (e.g., Facebook, Pages, Angry Birds).
  • Sculptures (e.g., Venus de Milo, Perseus With the Head of Medusa).
  • Musical works identified by a sequence number (e.g., Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9).

For these works, titles should be in roman type without quotation marks.

Foreign Titles in Translation

In AP style, writers are asked to give the English translation for names of foreign works unless the work in question is commonly known by its original title. For instance:

Fellini’s “La Dolce Vita” is well known, but fewer have seen “Nights of Cabiria.”

Here, we can use La Dolce Vita because the film was released under that name in English-speaking countries. However, we use the English title for Nights of Cabiria – originally titled Le Notti di Cabiria – because the original would be unfamiliar to most readers.

Thus, if you see an unfamiliar non-English title in a document you’re proofreading, you may want to check whether it is better known by a translated title and note this for your client.

Non-English Titles of Musical Works

The exception to the non-English title rule is musical works, where writers should use the language they were sung in. For example, AP style suggests using “The Valkyrie” for the well-known Wagner opera piece if sung in English, but “Die Walküre” if it is sung in German.

This can be hard to correct as a proofreader unless you know the details of the performance! However, you can leave a note for your client if you think something is wrong.

Even this exception has an exception, though: Titles of musical works in Slavic languages (e.g., Russian) are always presented in English, no matter the language they were sung in.

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