Punctuation of Titles of Plays, Books, Poems, Magazines, Movies, and Television Programs

Contributor: Linda Price. Lesson ID: 10091

The title may seem longer than the entire lesson, but it is important to know how to punctuate titles when you reference them in essays and other documents. Your teachers will grade you on this!



English / Language Arts
learning style
personality style
Golden Retriever
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8), High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Quick Query

Lesson Plan - Get It!


What would you do if you had to write a paper referencing Ponyboy's reading of Gone with the Wind and Johnny's affection for Frost's Nothing Gold Can Stay in Hinton's The Outsiders? How would you show each distinct piece of literature? Quotes? Italics? Do we still underline things? Is it too late to pick a new topic?

Quotation Marks? Italics? Underlines? Oh My!

As you progress through the higher grades, not only will you be expected to write more papers, you will be expected to read more frequently, and from a more diverse repertoire of materials.

When the worlds of reading and writing and writing about what you read intersect, you need to be proficient in correctly citing texts within your document.

You will review how to correctly reference published works, copyrighted works, and sources for copyrighted works in your writing. This includes everything from books to newspaper articles, YouTube channels, websites, songs, and TV show episodes.

That's right, even if you're writing a journal entry about what happened last night on your favorite show, you need to format titles properly. Plus, everything is now digital and available in new formats, so the rules continue to change.

We suggest you check with the Perdue Online Writing Lab (OWL) at least once a year for any style changes.

The two forms of formatting you will generally use are italics and "quotation marks." You also need to know when to use lowercase letters in longer titles, but start with the basics and work your way home from there.

Take a look at the following sentences. What are some things that you notice?

  • Shakespeare’s Hamlet is being produced by our local theater group.

In this sentence, the only published work or source for published or copyrighted work referenced is Hamlet, which is italicized. This means plays are italicized.

  • Stephen Spielberg directed Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark.

This seems easy; all you need to do is identify the title. In this sentence, it's a movie title: Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. Our movie title, like our play title, is italicized.

  • My favorite television program in the 90s was Seinfeld.

Finding the title, Seinfeld, we see it's a TV show and it, too, is italicized.

  • Hinton's The Outsiders contains one of Frost's most beautiful poems, "Nothing Gold Can Stay."

This sentence has two titles. The first, The Outsiders, is a book title. Like all book titles, it is italicized.

Wait, what's this? A poem? With quotation marks? Just when you thought you had this all under control, in comes a poem to throw you off your game. You're not down yet, just think about what the first four titles had in common. If you read back a few lines and say they are all stand-alone pieces (meaning they don't need the help or support of any other published medium to make it to the public), then you are correct!

A poem usually needs to be published in another book of poetry, a text book, novel, etc., to make it to the public. If a piece of work needs support from another work, it gets quotation marks. Therefore, "Nothing Gold Can Stay" is put within quotation marks.

  • My favorite of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales is "The Miller's Tale."

After the last explanation, this mention of a work within a work should be simple. The stand-alone piece Canterbury Tales is italicized, while "The Miller's Tale," one of the tales within the collection, is surrounded by quotation marks.

  • My older brother watches some questionable channels on YouTube, but I like "Nerdy Nummies with Ro."

There are even rules for YouTube! Think of it as TV, or a stand-alone source, and every channel or video as a piece that needs to be held in place by quotation marks.

So, what do you think you would do with music? An album title and song title? What about a playlist and a song title? Well, think about which is the stand-alone and which needs the support of quotation marks. The same holds true for websites, magazines, TV show episodes, etc.

Now that you're getting a grip on punctuation, continue on to the Got It? section for some practice!

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