Formatting Titles

title notecard

Distinguishing titles is a tricky punctuation kind of thing for students. After reviewing the rules for capitalizing titles, I usually give kids a guideline for formatting titles. I don’t know what to do with every type of title, but I have a rule for the major ones we come across in most school situations.

Big things are underlined; little things have quotations marks around them.

Think about a basic chapter book. The name of the whole book will be underlined (a big thing), but the chapter titles within the book will be identified inside quotation marks (a little thing). The name of a newspaper is underlined (big thing), and the name of an article within the newspaper (little thing) is in quotes.

If students can remember this tip, they can usually take a stab at marking titles correctly in their writing. Different English language and editing resources have different guidelines, so the important thing is to be consistent with whatever style you choose to use. For school-aged kids, it is best just to give a “rule” that they will follow while in the classroom. When the students go to high school or college, they can consult a current style guide, which will probably have changed multiple times by then anyway.

Should be Underlined

  • Chapter books (Charlotte’s Web)
  • Name of a poetry anthology or a poem that is the length of a book (Where the Sidewalk Ends, The Odyssey)
  • Newspaper names (New York Times)
  • Plays and movie names (The Lion King)

Should be in Quotes

  • Name of a chapter within a book (“Wilbur”)
  • Picture book (“Brave Bitsy and the Bear”)
  • Poem name (“Fog”)
  • Individual newspaper article (“Light Earthquake Felt in Anchorage”)
  • Song title (“Second Hand News”)

There is one final option. If you are using a computer for your writing assignment– italicize every title. According to most editing sources, titles can be italicized whether it is a big or small document. Word processing eliminates the need to remember the difference between underlining and using quotation marks. Since I am old school, I would still probably have students know the difference between titles… and maybe even handwrite them… in cursive. Do you have a policy for marking titles? Please share.

Click Writing Titles for a copy of the notes for your classroom or refrigerator at home.

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