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How to Write the Title of a Book in an Essay

write a book title in essay

Ah, titles. The seemingly simple thing with a lot of pitfalls. For instance, APA requires source titles to be put in sentence case, while MLA requires title case for them. However, when it comes to writing the title of a book in an essay within the body, both styles agree on title case, still disagreeing on minute details of title case implementation. And style guides were introduced as writing help, to make our life easier! Go figure.

If you have abandoned all hopes of figuring out how to properly write a book title in an essay, this post is your beacon. Let’s unscramble this mess.

Writing a Book Title in an Essay: General Rules

First of all, let’s see where APA, MLA, and other formats agree on what to do when writing titles in the body of your essay:

  1. The titles of self-contained and independent books are put in italics: novels, short stories, collections of poems, long stand-alone poems, plays: The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, Shakespeare’s Macbeth, John Donne’s Holy Sonnets, etc.
  2. The titles of parts within a complete work should be put in “quotes”: titles of chapters in the books, titles of acts or scenes in a play, title of a short poem or a song inside the collection. For example: “The Tyger” from Songs of Experience collection, “The Knight Bus” from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.
  3. Sometimes, the title of a book can be put within another title (for example, a monograph about a novel or a poem). In this case, if the title mentioned within the title is usually put in italics, you should use italics as well “Unbearable Weight of Authenticity: Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God and Theory of ‘Touristic Reading’.”
    If the title mentioned within the title is usually put in quotes, you should put it inside the single quotes instead of the double quotes. For example, “Individualism in O’Connor’s ‘A Good Man is Hard to Find’.”
  4. Titles of both stand-alone books and the parts within a complete work should be put in title case: “A Narrow Fellow in the Grass” from The Poems of Emily Dickinson.

Unfortunately, capitalization rules to implement the title case vary widely from style guide to style guide, so from here you should be taking one of the possible paths depending on the style required for your essay.

No time for that? Let us take care of stylistic nuances for you while you are busy doing something more important. Our editors are well-versed in all styles of academic writing and will format your paper impeccably.

However, if you are set on mastering the title case in all the flavors it comes in, let’s waste no more time!

How to Write a Book Title in an Essay: MLA Style

MLA stands for the Modern Language Association. MLA has published its first handbook in 1977 and regularly updates it with the current edition being the 8th one released in 2016. The MLA recommendations given there have become the default in humanities: English studies, linguistics, literature, cultural and media studies.

According to MLA, in the title you should always capitalize:

  • - the first and the last word in the title
  • - proper names
  • - principal words: nouns, pronouns, adjectives, verbs, adverbs
  • - subordinating conjunctions (because, although, if, unless)

You should NOT capitalize in the title:

  • - articles (unless they come first or last). For example, in the title The Perks of Being a Wallflower, “The” is capitalized because it is the first word, but “a” isn’t capitalized, because it’s an article in the middle of a title
  • - prepositions (unless they come first or last)
  • - coordinating conjunctions (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so)
  • - to in infinitives

How to Write a Book Title in an Essay: APA Style

APA stands for the American Psychological Association, and the first edition of its Publication Manual was released back in 1954. Since then, it has been updated several times, with the current version being the 7th edition published in 2019. APA style and format has become the most popular and widespread in academia, especially in social sciences.

According to APA, you should capitalize:

  • - the first and the last word in the title
  • - proper names
  • - major words (nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, pronouns)
  • - all words of four letters and more (besides, between, except, among, from)
  • - words after the em dash, colon, semicolon, etc., even if it’s an article or a short preposition, for example Queen Mab; A Philosophical Poem; With Notes
  • - second parts of hyphenated words (Cease-Fire, Sit-In, Make-Believe)

You should NOT capitalize minor words, which are:

  • - articles in the middle of the title
  • - conjunctions of three letters or fewer
  • - prepositions of three letters or fewer

How to Write a Title of a Book in an Essay: Chicago Style

First published in 1906, The Chicago Manual of Style is a style guide for American English by the University of Chicago. Its current edition is the 17th one, published in 2017. Although not as popular as APA or MLA, Chicago (sometimes also called CMOS or CMS) is still a very influential style widely used in academia, especially in Business, History, and the Fine Arts.

For the title case, Chicago recommends the capitalization of all words, with the exception of:

  • - articles
  • - all conjunctions (regardless of their length)
  • - all prepositions (regardless of their length)

That’s refreshingly straightforward. Moreover, The Chicago Manual of Style is as relaxed as to advise, “Break a rule when it doesn't work.”

How about that? If coping with an essay on your own isn’t working out, it’s time you asked for help!

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