Does this seem like a snore of a How-To post? If so, let me explain why I’m devoting a How-To Thursday to a subject so seemingly banal.
There are scores of resources on how to correctly punctuate the titles of books, songs, movies, newspapers, articles, and other works of art. Despite that, I often make title corrections in manuscripts. This tells me that while it’s easy to research, title punctuation still baffles a lot of writers.
So here is a quick and easy way to remember what gets put in italics and what goes between quotation marks.
If it’s big, use italics. If it’s small, use quotation marks.
Think you’ll forget that? Here’s a mnemonic: Big has an I in it—so does italics. Small has an M in it—so do quotation marks.
Get it? If the mnemonic doesn’t work, let’s try a visual exercise.
Stare at this: Big. “Small.” Now close your eyes and picture the words: Big. “Small.”
Next, what do I mean by big and small?
A book is big. A short story is small.
A newspaper is big. A news story is small.
A magazine is big. An article is small.
A poetry collection is big. A poem is small.
A CD is big. An song is small.
A TV show is big. An episode of a TV show is small.
A movie is big. A commercial is small.
A play is big. A skit is small.
A painting is big. A photograph is small.
A sculpture is big.
~ Big: Moby Dick ~ Small: “A Good Man is Hard to Find”
~ Big: The Chicago Daily Tribune ~ Small: “Dewey Defeats Truman”
~ Big: Writers Digest ~ Small: “How to Punctuate Titles”
~ Big: Leaves of Grass ~ Small: “I Sing the Body Electric”
~ Big: Meet the Beatles ~ Small: “I Want to Hold Your Hand”
~ Big: The Big Bang Theory ~ Small: “The Friendship Algorithm”
~ Big: Casablanca ~ Small: “Beer House”
~ Big: The Crucible ~ Small: “Land Shark”
~ Big: The Starry Night ~ Small: “Migrant Mother”
~ Big: Michelangelo’s David.
Big things stand on their own. Small things are often parts of something larger, but this is not an absolute. This is the English language, remember, so exceptions are the norm.
Religious tomes like The Bible and The Koran are capitalized. No italics or quotation marks.
An epic poem, one that is so long that it can be published on its own, is big: Paradise Lost
If you are confused, please do not use italics AND quotation marks.
Just remember this: I is for Big and Italics. M is for Small and Quotation Marks.
Also, there’s a rat in separate. (Sorry. But I do wish people would learn that one!)
16 thoughts on “How To Punctuate Titles in a Manuscript”
Great mnemonic, Ramona! I seem to have internalized the rule long ago without it, but it’s a good way to check.
You must have mastered this for your day job long ago, Edith.
Ramona, thank you! I’ve always wondered about this.
It’s simple once you focus on it, Karen!
If I had this clear and helpful essay available for sharing when I taught high school, I may have suffered less need to bang my head on the wall. Well done!
Plain text posts don’t allow italics or underlining, so a friend developed a shorthand underlining “cheat” _Moby Dick_ for those of us who can’t stand to leave a title unpunctuated. On TLC several of the writers used all-caps for titles MOBY DICK.
I think the all caps for titles is easier to type, Mary. I’ve done it many times when responding on blogs.
Thanks for explaining that, Ramona. I tend to italicize everything but that’s probably because I was thinking Big and little 😉
Great explanation! I hope I can remember it when I need it. 🙂
Email is an unfortunate game changer. I cap my titles and use asterisks for quotes in emails and list posts since italics and quotes get lost and/or garbled in online text. Grrrr.
Did you think this up yourself? It’s genius.
Kaye, I was taught the big and small ages ago, in school.
But I did think up the “I is in big” and “M is in small” all by meself. 🙂
Hi, Ramona —
This is brilliant. Thank you. I love mnemonic devices. Without them I would have forgotten many of the things I learned long ago. The one I still rely on is how to distinguish e.g. from i.e. E is for example. When I’m writing, I still have to remember that mnemonic to use the right one. Must be a mental block.
I’ve learned so much from your blogs. Thank you.
P.S. A real challenge is remembering how to spell mnemonic.
Grace, you are so right–I wrangled with mnemonic, too! You may see more of these in the future.
Thank you for the kind words. It’s good to know these posts are reaching someone in a valuable way.
I’m pretty sure writes this post for me, Ramona, so thanks!
Argh typing on an iPad! I meant to type ” you wrote”
Yup, this one goes in my files! I’ve had a tendency for years to just do whatever looked pretty, but then I was mostly writing for myself. 🙂
I’ve always been frustrated that FB does not give us options for underlining or italics
so I am guilty of overusing quotation marks. ARGHHHH