DEALING WITH TITLES IN MLA FORMAT
by Dr. Harold William Halbert
The conventions of properly marking a title in MLA style can seem confusing, but the basic issues deal with 1) capitalization and 2) marking the title.
The standard conventions for capitalizing a title in MLA style are straightforward:
- The first letter of every word is capitalized except for articles, coordinating conjunctions, and prepositions.
- Articles ("a," "an," and "the"), coordinating conjunctions ("for," "and," "nor," "but," "or," "yet," and "so"), and prepositions (words such as "on," "above," "below," "to," "throughout," etc.) are NOT capitalized.
- The first word is always capitalized, regardless of if it is an article or preposition.
Note that sometimes writers encounter titles that do not follow these conventions while conducting research. Databases often capitalize the entire title of an article or book, while other types of "styles" (like the AP style or the APA style) only capitalize the first word. You must change the capitalization of the title to MLA style if you reference the title of a work in your paper.
Marking the Title:
There are three possible ways to mark a title: the use of underlining/italics, quotation marks, or no mark at all. The following general rules of thumb may help writers conceptualize the difference between the three demarcations:
- Underline or italicize large works or works that contain other works.
- Use quotation marks on shorter works.
- Do not mark sacred texts or political documents such as laws, acts, treaties, or declarations.
The following chart offers specific types of texts and their demarcations:
|Underline/Italic||Quotation Marks||No Marks|
|Novels, books, anthologies||Short stories, essays, and chapter titles.||Religious texts|
|Magazines, newspapers, and journals||Individual articles|
|Films, TV shows, radio programs||Individual episodes of shows or programs|
|Web sites||Individual web pages|
|Epic poems||Regular poems|
|Pamphlets or sermons|
|Albums, named symphonies, ballets||Individual songs||Numbered musical compositions|
|Names of specific ships, spacecraft, or aircraft||Type of ship, spacecraft, or aircraft|
|Supreme Court Cases||Legal documents, treaties, acts, and declarations|
Note that underlining and italics signify the same type of mark. Many traditional professors prefer underling because when the MLA guidelines were first established, italics was not available on typewriters. In my class, you can use either underlining or italics, but you must be consistent: once you use underlining, stick with it. Never use BOTH italics and underlining.
Your Own Title:
Your own title for papers and other writings should follow the MLA rules on capitalization. Do not use italics, underlining, or quotation marks on it. Instead, it should appear centered one single-spaced line below the identification information and one single-spaced line above the first line of the paper. Do not increase the font size.
Titles in Titles:
If a title contains another title within it, confusion can occur. Follow the following rules to avoid confusion:
- An underlined title in an underlined title requires that the line be removed from internal title (example: Understanding The Sun Also Rises).
- A quoted title inside a quoted title requires the use of single quotation marks around the internal title (example: "The Dandy in Cather's 'Paul's Case'").
Owned by Dr. Harold William Halbert
Based on MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers (6th Edition)
Others are welcome to use this document provided credit is given to me.
Always ask your Mentor which style to use before you begin your paper.
The MLA style refers to the method of writing research papers recommended by the Modern Language Association. The MLA style is used in some areas of the humanities, e.g., composition and literature. Other humanities disciplines such as history, philosophy, and religion may require other styles for formatting your papers. Ask your Primary Mentor which style to use, then come to the Writing Center for further guidance.
As Winkleman states in the novel Diary of a Madman, "I was never ignorant" (293). Winkleman's purpose in Diary of a Madmanis to point out the innate imperfection of humans. Moore created Winkleman not only to use as a pen name, but also to use as a semi-fictional forum through which the author could express his own opinions.
Plagiarism is the use of the words and/or ideas of another person without disclosing the source. Whether deliberate or unintentional, plagiarism can lead to failure in a course and/or dismissal from college. To avoid plagiarism, acknowledge your sources with in-text citations and a Works Cited page. Always cite direct quotations(see below). If you use another person's idea or paraphrase another person's words, don't simply rearrange the words. Instead, make sure to use your own style of writing and language, and use an in-text citation to acknowledge the source. Then, list on the Works Cited page the publications or sources from which you obtained your citations.
The Writing Center here at GVC has a separate handout on this called, "Plagiarism and How to Avoid it: Guidelines for Students."
I. In-text Citations
Cite the first appearance of or reference to another person's words or ideas by introducing the quotation, paraphrase, or citation with the author's full name exactly as it appears in the source, but exclude titles such as Mr., Mrs., Ms., Miss, Dr., Reverend, etc. Be sure to include the page number(s) on which the cited material can be found. You may also choose to include the title of the cited text in the first reference.
Rebecca Peacey states in The Art of the Short Story that, to write good fiction, authors of short fiction must master grammar and punctuation (17).
The phrase "Rebecca Peacey states in The Art of the Short Story that, ..." is the signal phrase in this example.
|Note:||After the first appearance, use only the author's last name within the text of your writing; you do not need to restate the name of the text.|
Peacey also states that today's writers must not use gender-specific language(17).
Authors Name Not Used in Text
If you don't use the author's name in the text, place only the last name within the parenthetical citation with the page number. In the parenthetical citation, don't use "p." or "pp." to indicate page number(s), and don't include the text's title.
Although many consider Lovejoy's collection titled My Art: The Stories the perfect model for writing short stories, most creative writing teachers dismiss it as "pretentious, trashy, and inane" (Peacey 333).
More Than One Author
If a cited source has more than one author, either include all names in the parenthetical citation according to how they are listed in the source, or list the first author followed by et. al.
Critics harshly emphasize Lovejoy's chronic use of stale metaphor, cliched symbolism, and predictable twists of irony in his short stories (Newman, Banya, Benis, and Cramer 814).
Critics harshly emphasize Lovejoy's chronic use of stale metaphor, cliched symbolism, and predictable twists of irony in his short stories (Newman, et. al. 814).
|Note:||Make a clear distinction between your words and another person's words so the reader knows where borrowed ideas, paraphrased passages, and/or direct quotations begin and end. In the following example of what not to do, there is no clear distinction between the student's words and ideas and the cited author's words and ideas.|
Trent Lovejoy uses a variety of avian symbolism in his fiction. Doves represent peace. Eagles stand for self-deterministic freedom. Ravens signify the mysterious. Vultures symbolize either death or opportunism. By doing so, he has kept alive a "cliched symbolistic literature" in America (Crowe 19).
In comparison, the following passage clearly delineates words and ideas, and the reader of this passage can see that the student borrowed both a direct quotation and ideas from Crowe's book, For the Birds.
In For the Birds, James Crowe explains that Trent Lovejoy uses avian symbols to represent peace, freedom, mystery, death, and opportunism. In doing so, Crowe argues that Lovejoy has managed to keep alive the tradition of "cliched symbolistic literature" for America (189).
If you are citing an author who has been quoted in another book or article, use the original author's name in the text and the author of the source in which you found the quotation in the parenthetical citation.
It is far more important for authors to ". . .honor the semiotic tradition by using established symbolism" than it is for them to create new symbols as Lovejoy asserts (qtd. in Crowe: 278).
Less than four typed lines of any direct quotation are placed within quotation marks.
Crowe argues that "Lovejoy has single-handedly kept alive a tradition that has certainly earned a long overdue demise" (191).
More than four typed lines of any direct quotation must be indented. From the left margin, indent one inch on a computer or ten spaces on a typewriter. Double space the quotation, and don't use quotation marks. Insert a parenthetical citation two spaces after the last punctuation mark of the quotation.
Peacey states that many authors of contemporary short fiction have not mastered the commonly accepted set of prescriptive rules by which standard American English is defined. She argues that such a lack of proficiency is detrimental to these authors' works and may well be damaging to the language as a whole. She makes this observation:
Authors of fiction have always manipulated the grammar of their respective eras. Whether writing in dialect to validate certain characters or stylistically misusing a language, fictionists have routinely broken grammatical rules. However, the misuse of language by contemporary writers is more often the result of ignorance of grammar than it is of creative design. For a variety of reasons, not the least of which is academic political correctness, many contemporary American authors simply do not know a grammar that delineates the language in which they write. Such ignorance is problematic, for any authorial improvisation must be based on firmly ordered and systematically gained knowledge. (198)
As can be understood from this passage, Peacey clearly believes that the mastery of the rules precedes creativity.
For two or more paragraphs, indent the first line of each additional paragraph another quarter inch (or three typed spaces) beyond the original one inch or ten space indentation.
Two or More Works by the Same Author
If your list of works cited includes two or more works by the same author, include the title of the work either in the signal phrase or in abbreviated form in the parenthetical reference.
In his article "California and the West," reporter T. Christian Miller asserts that from 1990 to 1997, California spent roughly $26 million on conservation lands "to provide habitat for exactly 2.6 mountain lions" (A3). According to T. Christian Miller. "Mountain lions, also called pumas or cougars, range vast territories in search of food, sometimes as large as 100 square miles" ("Cougars" 1).
|Note:||The title of an article from a periodical should be put in quotation marks, as in the examples. The title of a book should be underlined or italicized. When both the author and a short title must be given in parentheses, the citation should appear as follows:|
The mountain lion population has been encroaching on human territory in California since 1972, when voters passed a law that banned hunting of the animal (Miller, "Cougars" 1).
The Author Is Unknown
If the author is not given, either use the complete title in a signal phrase or use a short form of the title in the parentheses.
In California, fish and game officials estimate that since 1972 lion numbers have increased from 2,400 to at least 6,000 ("Lion" A21).
Authors With the Same Last Name
If your list of works cited includes works by two or more authors with the same last name, include the first name of the author you are citing in the signal phrase or parenthetical reference.
At least 66,665 lions were killed between 1907 and 1978 in Canada and the United States (Kevin Hansen 58).
A Novel, a Play, or a Poem
In citing literary sources, include information that will enable readers to find the passage in various editions of the work. For a novel, put the page number first and then, if possible, indicate the part or chapter in which the passage can be found.
Fitzgerald's narrator captures Gatsby in a moment of isolation: "A sudden emptiness seemed to flow now from the windows and the great doors, endowing with complete isolation the figure of the host"(56: ch. 3).
For a verse play, list the act, scene, and line numbers, separated by periods. Use Arabic numerals unless your instructor prefers Roman numerals.
In his famous advice to the players, Hamlet defines the purpose of theater, ". . . whose end, both at the first and now, was and is, to hold, as 'twere, the mirror up to nature" (3.2.21-23).
For a poem, cite the part (if there are a number of parts) and the line numbers, separated by periods.
When Homer's Odysseus comes to the hall of Circe, he finds his men ". . . mild / in her soft spell, fed on her drug of evil" (10.209-11).
If the book of the Bible that you are citing does not appear in the signal phrase, include it in parentheses along with the chapter and verse numbers.
Consider the words of Solomon: "If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink" (Prov. 25.21).
|Note:||If it is relevant, you may also include the version of the Bible you are citing:(Prov. 25.21, RSV).|
Two or More Works
To cite more than one source to document a particular point, separate the citations with a semicolon.
The dangers of mountain lions to humans have been well documented (Rychnovsky 40; Seidensticker 114; Williams30).
|Note:||Multiple citations can be distracting to readers, however, so the techniques should not be overused. If you want to alert readers to several sources that discuss a particular topic, consider using an information note instead.|
A Work without Page Numbers
You may omit the page number if a work has no page numbers. Some electronic sources use paragraph numbers instead of page numbers. For such sources, use the abbreviation "par." or "pars." in the parentheses:(Smith, par. 4).
An Electronic Source
To cite an electronic source in the text of your paper, follow the same rules as for print sources. If the source has an author and there is a page number, provide both.
Using historical writings about leprosy as an example, Demaitre argues that ". . . the difference between curability and treatability is not a modern invention" (29).
|Note:||Electronic sources often lack page numbers. If the source uses some other numbering system, such as paragraphs or sections, specify them, using an abbreviation ("par.," "sec.") or a full word ("screen"). Otherwise, use no number at all.|
A clip of the film Demolition d'un mur demonstrates that "cinema is all about transformation, not mere movement" (Routt, sec. 1). Volti writes, "As with all significant innovations, the history of the automobile shows that technological advance is fueled by more than economic calculation."
|Note:||If the electronic source has no known author, either use the complete title in a signal phrase or use a short form of the title in parentheses.|
According to a Web page sponsored by the Children's Defense Fund, fourteen American children die from gunfire each day ("Child")
Use four ellipsis points to indicate the omission of an entire sentence within a quotation.
Peacey claims that ". . . although a living language is constantly changing . . . . It is the author's duty to be aware of the language's grammatical conventions as well as to be knowledgeable of its linguistic history" (7).
Use four spaced periods to indicate an omission at the end of a direct quotation. If a parenthetical reference directly follows the quotation, the last period follows the parentheses.
Lovejoy argues that ". . . authors are duty-bound to carry on the semiotic tradition as it is inherited from those authors who precede them . . ." (4).
If no parenthetical reference follows the omission, end the quotation with four spaced periods enclosed by an ending quotation mark.
Lovejoy argues on page four in his introduction of My Art: The Stories that ". . . the author is duty-bound to carry on the semiotic tradition as presented to him by those authors who precede him . . . ."
Begin each reference at the left hand margin. List the author's last name first, then the first name followed by a period. Type two spaces, then list the title of the book underlined and with the first letter of all major words capitalized. A period follows (not underlined). Next list the place (city) of publication followed by a colon, one space, the publisher followed by a comma, and the year of publication followed by a period. Omit the words Publishing Company and Inc. from the publisher's name. If the reference is more than one line in length, indent one-half inch (computer formatted) or five spaces (typed) all lines following the first. Double space all lines.
Book by one Author
Hyde, Bernard. Perspectives on Literature: The New Historical Criticism in America. Peoria: Bancroft, 1992.
|Note:||List two or more books by the same author alphabetically by title. Give the author's name in the first entry only. After the first entry, type three hyphens and a period. Skip two spaces, then list the title. (In the following example, UP is the accepted MLA abbreviation for University Press).|
Britt, Ponsiby. Representation of Indigenous North American Mammalia in Twentieth Century American Humor. Frostbite Falls: Rockland UP, 1963.
---. Character Stereotypes in Cold War American Literature. Frostbite Falls: Rockland UP, 1967.
Books by two or more authors -- list authors as they are listed in the book. Reverse only the first author's name.
Ciccone, Eva, Lorna Smith, and Natasha Fatale. Femininity and Feminism in Literature: Two Views. Boston: Singleton, 1991.
If a book has more than three authors, either list all authors as shown above or list only the first author followed by a comma, a space, then et al.
Jones, Sarah, Michael Williams, Charles Porter, William Mayer, and Anthony Rofollo. Scenes in a Coffee Shop. Toronto: Middleman, 1996.
Jones, Sarah, et al. Scenes in a Coffee Shop. Toronto: Middleman, 1996.
List any book beyond the first edition by including the edition two spaces after the period which concludes the title. Do not underline the designation for the edition.
Young, Keith. Symbols of Morality. 4th ed. Scranton: Crowell, 1976.
For an author's work cited in a textbook, anthology, or other full-length work, list according to the author of the cited work within the anthology. Typically, such a cited work would be an article, an essay, a short story, or a poem, so enclose the title of the cited work within quotation marks. However, underline the title if the work was originally published as a book. Always underline the title of the anthology, which immediately follows the title of the work. Include the page numbers of the anthology in which the cited work appears.
An entry for an editor is similar to that for an author except that the name is followed by a comma and the abbreviation "ed." for "editor." If there is more than one editor, use the abbreviation "eds." for "editors."
Kitchen, Judith, and Mary Paumier Jones, eds. In Short: A Collection of Brief Creative Nonfiction. New York: Norton, 1996.
Author with an Editor
Begin with the author and title, followed by the name of the editor. In this case the abbreviation "Ed." means "Edited by," so it is the same for one or multiple editors.
Wells, Ida B. The Memphis Diary. Ed. Miriam DeCosta-Willis. Boston: Beacon, 1995.
List the entry under the name of the author, not the translator. After the title, write "Trans." (for "Translated by") and the name of the translator.
Mahfouz, Naguib. Arabian Nights and Days. Trans. Denys Johnson-Davies. New York: Doubleday, 1995.
Begin with the title. Alphabetize the entry by the first word of the title other than A, An, or The.
Oxford Essential World Atlas. New York: Oxford UP, 1996.
Edition Other Than the First
If you are citing an edition other than the first, include the number of the edition after the title: 2nd ed., 3rd ed., and so on.
Boyce, David George. The Irish Question and British Politics, 1868-1996. 2nd ed. New York: St. Martin's, 1996.
Include the total number of volumes before the city and publisher, using the abbreviation "vols."
Conway, Jill Ker, ed. Written by Herself. 2 vols. New York: Random, 1996.
|Note:||If your paper cites only one of the volumes, give the volume number before the city and publisher and give the total number of volumes in the work after the date.|
Conway, Jill Ker, ed. Written by Herself. Vol. 2. New York: Random, 1996. 2 vols.
Encyclopedia or Dictionary
Articles in well-known dictionaries and encyclopedias are handled in abbreviated form. Simply list the author of the article (if there is one), the title of the article, the title of the reference work, the edition number, if any, and the date of the edition.
"Sonata." Encyclopaedia Britannica. 15th ed. 1997.
|Note:||Volume and page numbers are not necessary because the entries are arranged alphabetically and therefore are easy to locate. If a reference work is not well known, provide full publishing information as well.|
The Bible is not included in the list of works cited. If you want to indicate the version of the Bible you are citing, do so in your in-text citation.
Work in an Anthology
Present the information in this order, with each item followed by a period: author of the selection; title of the selection; title of the anthology; editor of the anthology, preceded by "Ed." (meaning "Edited by"); city, publisher, and date; page numbers on which the selection appears.
Malouf, David. "The Kyogle Line." The Oxford Book of Travel Stories. Ed. Patricia Craig. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996. 390-96.
|Note:||If an anthology gives the original publication information for a selection and if your instructor prefers that you use it, cite that information first. Follow with "Rpt. in" (for "Reprinted in"), the title, editor, and publication information for the anthology, and the page numbers in the anthology on which the selection appears.|
Rodriguez, Richard. "Late Victorians." Harper's Oct. 1990: 57-66. Rpt. in The Best American Essays 1991. Ed. Joyce Carol Oates. New York: Ticknor, 1991. 119-34.
Two or More Works From the Same Anthology
If you wish, you may cross-reference two or more works from the same anthology. Provide a separate entry for the anthology with complete publication information.
Craig, Patricia, ed. The Oxford Book of Travel Stories. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1996.
Then list each selection separately, giving the author and title of the selection followed by a cross-reference to the anthology. The cross-reference should include the last name of the editor of the anthology and the page numbers in the anthology on which the selection appears.
Desai, Anita. "Scholar and Gypsy." Craig 251-73.
Malouf, David. "The Kyogle Line." Craig 390-96.
Foreword, Introduction, Preface, or Afterword
If in your paper you quote from one of these elements, begin with the name of the writer of that element. Then identify the element being cited, neither underlined nor in quotation marks, followed by the title of the complete book, the book's author, and the book's editor, if any. After the publication information, give the page numbers on which the foreword, introduction, preface, or afterword appears.
Kennedy, Edward M. Foreword. Make a Difference. Henry W. Foster, Jr., and Alice Greenwood. New York: Scribner, 1997. 9-15.
Book with a Title within Its Title
If the book title contains a title normally underlined (or italicized), neither underline (nor italicize) the internal title nor place it in quotation marks.
Vanderham, Paul. James Joyce and Censorship: The Trials of Ulysses. New York: New York UP, 1997.
|Note:||If the title within the title is normally enclosed within quotation marks, retain the quotation marks and underline (or italicize) the entire title.|
Faulkner, Dewey R. Twentieth Century Interpretations of "The Pardoner's Tale." Englewood Cliffs: Spectrum-Prentice, 1973.
Before the publication information, cite the series name as it appears on the title page followed by the series number, if any.
Malena, Anne. The Dynamics of Identity in Francophone Caribbean Narrative. Francophone Cultures and Literatures Ser. 24. New York: Lang, 1998.
After the title of the book, cite the original publication date followed by the current publication information. If the republished book contains new material, such as an introduction or afterword, include that information after the original date.
McClintock, Walter. Old Indian Trails. 1926. Foreword William Least Heat Moon. Boston: Houghton, 1992.
If a book was published by an imprint of a publishing company, cite the name of the imprint followed by a hyphen and the publisher's name. The name of the imprint usually precedes the publisher's name on the title page.
Coles, Robert. The Moral Intelligence of Children: How to Raise a Moral Child. New York: Plume-Random, 1997.
List the entry under the name of the author, not the translator. After the title, write "Trans." (for "Translated by") and the name of the translator.
Mahfouz, Naguib. Arabian Nights and Days. Trans. Denys Johnson-Davies. New York: Doubleday, 1995.
Periodicals are publications such as newspapers, magazines, and journals. Generally, list the author(s), title of article in quotation marks, name of the journal underlined, series number (if relevant), volume number (for journals), issue number (if needed), date of publication, and inclusive page numbers not preceded by "p." or "pp." If the article is not published on consecutive pages, include only the page number on which the article first appears, followed by a + sign with no space in between.
Many scholarly journals are paged continuously throughout the year. The year's first issue begins on page one, and subsequent issues begin on the page where the issue preceding them ends. Therefore, listing the month of publication is unnecessary. Instead, list the volume number followed by the year of publication in parentheses. Then include a colon followed by page number(s) on which the article appears.
Gregory, Norman. "Australian Aboriginal Dialects." The Journal of Modern Languages 75 (1987): 74-101.
However, some journals page each issue separately. In such cases, include in the bibliographic citation the volume number immediately followed by a period, which is immediately followed by the issue number.
Douglas, Oliver. "Gentrification of Rural Lands: Migration Beyond the Suburb." The American Quarterly 18.2 (1969): 12-24.
For a magazine published weekly or biweekly, follow the general directions for periodicals, but include the entire date with the day first, followed by the month (abbreviated) and year. Do not include an issue or volume number.
Ziffel, Arnold. "Confessions of an Overeater." Pound Watchers Weekly 8 June 1970: 14-17.
Follow the directions for a weekly magazine, but do not include the day of publication.
Douglas, Lisa. "To Live on Park Avenue." Urban Life Sept. 1970: 36-44.
List the author(s); title of the article in quotation marks, name of newspaper as it appears on the masthead omitting any introductory article such as "the," the complete date of publication -- day, month, and year, a colon, and a page number(s) (including section designation such as A and B or 1 and 2 if included) as listed in the newspaper. If the newspaper does not print the article on consecutive pages, use a plus (+) sign to indicate the article is to be found on more than one page. Omit any volume or issue numbers.
Charles, Raymond. "School Administration Closes Middle School Library." The Chronicle of S Learning 12 Sept. 1990: A1-A6.
Wilbert, Kenneth. "Writer Searches America for Lost Hope." Mecklenburg Tribune 24 Aug. 1987, sec. 2: 1+.