When Do I Use Italics for Titles?

In academic writing, use italics for the titles of books, long pieces of choreography, newspapers, plays, and movies.

In general, the titles of long works of art should be italicized.

Title of a Book

When Sook Nyul Choi, author of Year of Impossible Goodbyes, arrived in the United States, she found it difficult to communicate in English instead of her native Korean. For the first couple of years she lived in the United States, she says, “My Korean-English/English-Korean dictionary never left my hands.”

Title of a Long Piece of Choreography

The Soviet Union respects its ballerinas. During World War II, some Soviet soldiers freed a village from the invading Nazis. In a cottage, they found a photograph—damaged by bullet holes—of famed ballerina Galina Ulanova dancing Swan Lake. A Soviet soldier wrote her to say that they were taking good care of the photograph, and an orderly had been given the duty—during lulls in the fighting—of placing flowers in front of it each day.

Title of a Movie

Agnes de Mille’s father was William de Mille, a playwright, scriptwriter, and movie director. (He was also the brother of director Cecil B. De Mille.) As a writer and director, he understood how to reveal character. For example, in the movie Nice People a streetwalker eats dinner at a gentleman’s house. Before she begins to eat, she carefully cleans the silverware with her napkin—something that would be a necessity in the greasy spoon restaurants where she would normally eat.

Title of a Newspaper

In 2008, Darlene, the daughter of Tucson Weekly columnist Tom Danehy, was involved in a contest with Jessica, one of her college volleyball teammates. They competed to see who could drink Starbucks coffee in the greatest number of states. One rule is that the person has to actually be in the state. Another rule is that the person has to keep the Starbucks receipt as evidence. Darlene once went to Vermont to buy Starbucks coffee, having been disappointed by missing Vermont on a previous trip to New England. Her father went with her, and while he was eating a roast beef sandwich, a female vegetarian asked him, “How can you eat that?” He replied, “The bread makes it difficult. I wish there were some way I could hold the beef together with two pork chops.” She laughed, then moved to another, further-away seat.

Title of a Long Play, and Title of a Newspaper

Actor John Barrymore married poetess Michael Strange, then appeared in her play Clair de Lune. Many critics wondered why Mr. Barrymore would appear in such a macabre piece, but only Mr. Whittaker of the Chicago Tribune headlined his review “For the Love of Mike.”

Title of a Book

A visitor to the house owned by the parents of Yoshiko Uchida, author of Journey to Topaz, slipped and fell down the front steps outside. Therefore, her mother took action and painted PLEASE WATCH YOUR STEP on the four steps—one word per step. Unfortunately, while painting, she put the words in the wrong order, so that visitors read STEP YOUR WATCH PLEASE while descending the steps.

Title of a Movie

When she was growing up, ballerina Darci Kistler was asked to appear in a scene in the movie The Turning Point, which starred Mikhail Baryshnikov. Unfortunately, as she and her family discovered when they went to see the movie, Darci’s scene was cut.

Title of a Play

While the Old Vic Company was performing Twelfth Night in Philadelphia, problems arose because members of the cast frequently got lost between the dressing rooms and the stage in the large, unfamiliar theater, forcing the other cast members to improvise while waiting for an absent actor. While Judi Dench was onstage as Olivia, she said her line, “Get ye all three into the box-tree. Malvolio’s coming down the walk.” Actor John Neville made her laugh when he whispered, “Wanna bet?”

Title of a Long Dance

Monica Lera, a former member of the Opera House Ballet, remembers a time when she and other dancers played children in Act II in La Bohème and were required to carry food onto the stage. Because the food was real, tasty, and free, and because the dancers were living on low wages, they nibbled on the food before bringing it in, reasoning that no one in the audience could see that a bite or two had been taken out of a slice of ham or a cream cake. Of course, the singers on stage did notice, and in a low voice would joke to the dancers: “The rats have been at this. I shall complain to the management.”

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