What are (if any) official rules for giving the names of works (books, TV series, episodes), both in main text, and in quotes?

Should they be italicized? Quoted? Both? No rule? Should they differ when the title is used as a source of the quote text?

I don't care if the rules are SciFI.SE specific, SE specific, or publishing specific, or from Elements of Style, or what. As long as I know which ones to use for consistency.

  • What bothers me is there is no way, in markdown, to underline anything and proper styling should allow for underlining titles of movies and TV shows and books, and putting episode or chapter titles in italics.
    – Tango
    Jan 24, 2012 at 16:58
  • @TangoOversway - did you grep MSO for underlining? I wouldn't be surprised if SOME tag existed - heck, strikethrough does :) Jan 24, 2012 at 18:05
  • I searched in the web page on it, but I'm not perfect, maybe I missed something. But I haven't seen underlining in a single SE post so far.
    – Tango
    Jan 24, 2012 at 18:21
  • 1
    meta.stackexchange.com/a/24142 - read ALL the comments. Starting with: "conflicts with hyperlinks, which are typically underlined. Underlining is of extremely limited use anyway IMO. – Jeff Atwood♦ Oct 2 '09 at 10:07" Jan 24, 2012 at 18:37
  • Trust DVK to want proper styling and formatting!
    – Möoz
    Jun 9, 2016 at 22:28

5 Answers 5


Titles for movies, television, and radio programs are italicized. A single episode in a television or radio series is set in roman and enclosed in quotation marks.

Star Wars: A New Hope or Star Wars, Part VI
NBC's Law and Order
NPR's Fresh Air with Terri Gross
The Ten O'Clock News, WGBH's long-running program (specific program)
"Micromanaging a Vulcan," an episode in Star Trek: The Next Generation series
the ten-o-clock news (general)

The names of networks, channels, and the like are set in roman (non-italicized) type.

The Discovery Channel
The Food Network

With books, the title is always italicized:
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

With books, when citing specifics, the words "chapter" and "page"/"pages" are lowercase.

If the title is used within a title, reverse italics are used:
My Life With Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows : A Memoir

It's okay to drop the initial "a," "an," or "the," from a title if it doesn't flow with the surrounding syntax, for example:

I liked the Harry Potter book The Order of the Phoenix because . . .
I liked Order of the Phoenix because . . .

When newspapers and periodicals are mentioned, the initial "the" is lowercare: the Daily Prophet, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal. Exception: foreign-language titles retain the article, so Le Monde or Die Zeit.

As an aside, for question titles, there are two main styles to choose from: Headline and sentence style.

This Is an Example of the Headline Style: the Capitalization of All Words


Sentence style: An example

There are so many rules! I threw this together using The Chicago Manual of Style, Sixteenth Edition as my guide.

(Do you need the rule on quoting dialogue, too? You didn't say so, so I didn't want to assume)

  • Don't want it (as in, won't bother following most likely) but no objections if you post it. Jan 24, 2012 at 15:09
  • No quotes? I'm surprised Jan 24, 2012 at 15:12
  • Perfect answer: Internet high-five for the use of "quotation marks" instead of the oft-misused "quotes".
    – user366
    Jan 24, 2012 at 22:38
  • @MarkTrapp - Thanks! I'm glad you found it on par. :) Jan 25, 2012 at 10:59

In most style guides, the title of movies should be listed in italics.

Book titles are usually either in italics or underlined, although italics seems to be more common.

  • What about quoting? Jan 24, 2012 at 15:08
  • From what I recall (backed by what is listed in that MLA guide), quotation marks are for the titles of essays and poems. I believe short stories might fall into this category as well.
    – Beofett
    Jan 24, 2012 at 15:40
  • 1
    Ugh. And they say lawyers are deliberately over-complicating matters so lay people would have no choice but to hire them. Jan 24, 2012 at 15:51
  • @DVK You have no idea! My office uses the AP Style Guide, which I don't actually have access to, and the level of details are ridiculous. For example, I get corrected every single time I use a comma-separated list, because the Style Guide dictates that there should never be a comma before the "and" (e.g. "I like ponies, waffles, and boating" is wrong, but "I like ponies, waffles and boating" is right).
    – Beofett
    Jan 24, 2012 at 15:54
  • The latter is actually a very basic English rule :))). I learned it back when I was learning English in another country. Jan 24, 2012 at 15:55
  • @DVK Actually, my understanding is that the comma before "and" is perfectly acceptable use, particularly outside of formal journalism.
    – Beofett
    Jan 24, 2012 at 16:01
  • Meh! Underline is a typewriterism, and should be avoided when proper typesetting is available. The Oxford comma (, and) has been a matter of long debate but is falling out of style (alas). Jan 24, 2012 at 21:20
  • 2
    @dmckee - I think the Oxford comma is useful. It keeps I'd like to thank my parents, Ayn Rand, and God from becoming the laughable I'd like to thank my parents, Ayn Rand and God. ;) Jan 25, 2012 at 10:56
  • @Slytherincess: Me too, thus "alas". But very few (none?) of the major style guides like it these days. Jan 26, 2012 at 3:03
  • @dmckee I didn't know that it was falling out of favor! It's so ingrained for me that it would take conscious effort to not use the Oxford comma. :) Jan 26, 2012 at 23:42

The TLDR of Slytherincess's answer:

  • Long works (novels, collections, movies, series) are in italics.
  • Short works (short stories, episodes) are in quotes.
  • If in doubt, check on Wikipedia, it's crawled by an army of typography nerds.

These are widely followed style guidelines, in no way specific to Stack Exchange.


To summarize and expand on the other answers:

  • Most things fall into one of two categories: "Roman with Quotation Marks," and Italic Without Quotation Marks. Just about everything will be written in Title Case in one of these two formats; that means every "important" word is capitalized as well as the first word regardless of importance. "Unimportant" words are typically prepositions and articles with at most four letters ("of," "the," "in," etc.). The "the" at the beginning of a title may or may not actually be part of the title, so be careful.
  • As is stated above, the vast majority of auditory, visual and literary works fall into the italics category, with individual episodes of TV and radio shows the major exception (I constantly see people mess this up and italicize things). The shows themselves are italicized, and the rule is identical between animated and live-action shows and films. Podcasts are like radio shows.
  • Short films may be quoted or italicized depending who you ask. A short film is substantially less than two hours long.
  • Individual chapters of books are quoted. The books themselves are italicized, and the chapter number gets nothing (e.g. "The Patronus," Chapter 12, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban). Comic books and graphic novels are books, but issue numbers are not titles.
  • Quotation marks are used for poems (except for epic poems like Beowulf and very long poems like The Waste Land) and short stories. The exact length at which a story or poem becomes "too long" for quotation marks is not well established, but note that "epic poem" is a genre rather than a length (see the epyllion subgenre). Inclusion in an anthology or longer work is a good sign that a story or poem is "short," as is a lack of chapters or other internal divisions (stanzas, horizontal lines, and other formatting niceties do not count).
  • Video games are italicized. Individual quests or other subdivisions of a game should probably be quoted, but I don't think this is a well established usage. Most of these "rules" were made up by academics over the years, and there are relatively few academic texts which seriously cite video games, let alone individual quests within those games. In non-academic contexts, quests often take no formatting, but I'm not sure whether that's correct or just convenient.
  • Plays are italicized. Individual acts and scenes would get quotation marks, but they typically do not have names at all. Do not quote act and scene numbers (e.g. Act 2, Scene 2 of Hamlet).
  • Songs are quoted, albums are italicized. Bands are not works and do not get any special formatting, but they do usually qualify for Title Case (e.g. "Eleanor Rigby" from Revolver by The Beatles).
  • Entire franchises are most often named after the first major work set in that universe, which is usually italicized, so it's become common to italicize whole franchises (e.g. Star Trek, not to be confused with TOS or the 2009 film). For things which are named after nothing in particular (like Known Space or Discworld), I've seen it both with and without the italics (at the time of writing, Wikipedia italicizes Discworld but not Known Space, which drives me nuts for reasons I hope are obvious). Italics are even less common when the name is or looks unofficial, particularly if it has the -verse suffix (the Whoniverse, Arrowverse, etc.), but perhaps those are settings rather than franchises. Regardless, franchises pretty much never get quotation marks and always get Title Case.
  • Religious texts are off topic, which is good because I wasn't able to find consistent rules for them.

A rule of thumb: "Short" things (length relative to the medium), most poems, and anything that's part of a larger whole (other than a whole franchise) will typically be quoted, and everything else will typically be italicized.

A second rule of thumb: Be consistent. It's better to always write it the same way and be entirely wrong than to write it both ways and be right once and wrong once.

  • @armadillo: Thanks, fixed.
    – Kevin
    Jun 9, 2016 at 6:28
  • @armadillo: 28 minutes is definitely short enough ("short film" is in contrast to "feature film," which is a two hour thing you could (theoretically, YMMV on content, genre, etc.) show at a theater). Just pick a style and be consistent.
    – Kevin
    Jun 9, 2016 at 6:31

(This is what I do, if you don't like it, down vote and I'll reform :))

Where possible, I link the first instance of a title (if a film or TV episode, then generally to IMDB; if a book, then generally Amazon because I find their catalogue most extensive and their "search inside" generally better than anyone else's). Adding the link emphasises the title (which the current design displays as a colour change), so I don't add any other markup. If there is a second instance, then I simply add emphasis (which the current design displays as italics) rather than repeat the link.

For example, Beak of the Moon is my favourite novel by a New Zealand author. There is a sequel to Beak of the Moon, called Dark of the Moon, that is nowhere near as good.


For example, Beak of the Moon is my favourite novel by a New Zealand author. There is a sequel to Beak of the Moon, called Dark of the Moon, that is nowhere near as good.


For example, Beak of the Moon is my favourite novel by a New Zealand author. There is a sequel to Beak of the Moon, called Dark of the Moon, that is nowhere near as good.

  • I'd claim that the real problem in your example is the repetitive structure. Why not "The sequel, Dark of the Moon is nowhere near as good."? Now maybe that's due to a contrived example, but I generally prefer restructuring the text to complicating the rule. Jan 26, 2012 at 3:06
  • It's a contrived example. I needed an example of using the title twice, and I wasn't going to type out several paragraphs of text just for that.
    – Tony Meyer
    Jan 26, 2012 at 4:25

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