How to Format Italics in MLA

In MLA formatting, correctly italicizing source titles is crucial for clarity and consistency. It’s not just about style; it’s about ensuring your readers can navigate your work smoothly. Understanding when to use italics serves as a guiding principle, leading your audience through your citations with precision. Mastering this aspect of formatting is essential for maintaining the integrity of your scholarly writing.

  • Books: When referencing a book in your MLA paper, remember to italicize the title. This signals to your readers that you’re mentioning a self-contained literary work, whether it’s a novel, collection of essays, or poetry anthology. For example, To Kill a Mockingbird or The Catcher in the Rye.
  • Websites: Citing websites accurately is crucial. When citing a website as a whole (rather than individual pages or articles), italicize the title. This applies to online publications, blogs, and other web-based resources. For instance, The White House or British Museum.
  • News Publications: Newspapers and news websites play a significant role in research and journalism. When referring to a specific newspaper or news website, italicize the title. This includes both print and online publications. For example, The Washington Post or BBC News.
  • Journals: Academic journals are primary sources of scholarly information. When citing a journal in the MLA format, italicize the title of the journal itself. This distinguishes it from the titles of individual articles within the journal. For instance, Nature or The Journal of American History.
  • TV Shows: Television series are a staple of modern entertainment. When discussing a TV show in your citation, make sure to italicize the title. Whether it’s a classic sitcom or a binge-worthy drama, italicizing helps the title stand out. For example, Breaking Bad or Friends.
  • Magazines: Magazines offer a diverse array of content, from articles to editorials to photo essays. When citing a magazine in MLA format, italicize the title to indicate it as a self-contained publication. This includes both print and online magazines. For example, National Geographic or Time.
  • Albums: Music is a universal language, and albums are its primary medium. When referencing a music album, remember to italicize the title. Whether it’s a chart-topping album or an underground indie release, italics distinguish the album title from individual songs. For instance, Thriller by Michael Jackson or Abbey Road by The Beatles.
  • Anthologies: Anthologies are collections of various works, often curated around a central theme or genre. When citing an anthology, italicize its title to signify its self-contained nature. This applies to literary anthologies, poetry collections, and other compiled works. For example, The Norton Anthology of English Literature or Best American Short Stories.
  • Plays: Theatrical works, whether classic or contemporary, hold a special place in literature. When discussing a play in your MLA paper, ensure the title is italicized. This includes both full-length plays and one-act dramas. For example, Hamlet or A Streetcar Named Desire.
  • Films: Movies captivate audiences worldwide with their storytelling and cinematography. When citing a film, italicize its title to distinguish it from other types of works. Whether it’s a Hollywood blockbuster or an indie film, italicizing emphasizes its significance. For example, The Shawshank Redemption or Pulp Fiction.

Check for Special Characters: When formatting italics in MLA, be mindful of any special characters or diacritics present in the title. Ensure that these are accurately represented, as they can convey important linguistic or cultural nuances. Additionally, verify that the italics are applied consistently to all parts of the title, including any special characters, to maintain clarity and fidelity to the original source.

Mind the Fine Print: Pay attention to the nuances of MLA guidelines regarding italics. While self-contained works like books and films are typically italicized, certain exceptions exist. For instance, titles within larger works (e.g., chapters within a book) are generally enclosed in quotation marks rather than italics. Familiarize yourself with these subtleties to avoid common formatting errors. 

Utilize Technology: Take advantage of writing software or formatting tools to streamline the process of italicizing titles in MLA. Many word processing programs offer built-in features for applying italics with ease. Additionally, online citation generators can automatically format titles according to MLA guidelines, saving you time and ensuring accuracy in your citations.


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Hannah Berry (Ph.D.)

Hannah Berry has lectured at several colleges and teaches at the WEA. Besides publishing extensively, she has taught citation skills and written multiple style guides.

Learn how to cite in MLA