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Mastering MLA Title Formatting: Guidelines and Examples

August 21, 2023
9 minutes read
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This comprehensive guide is designed to clarify the procedures for formatting titles of various types of works in academic papers, strictly adhering to the MLA format. Specifically, this guide focuses on the nuances of MLA title formatting, including capitalization requirements, scenarios where abbreviating a title is necessary, and notable exceptions. Engage with our meticulously crafted examples and prepare yourself to tackle every formatting challenge, firmly grounded in the most recent standards established by the Modern Language Association.

General MLA Format for Titles and Rules

According to the stipulations of the 9th edition of the MLA Handbook, titles play a pivotal role in all forms of academic writing. The general rules dictate either italicizing the title or enclosing it in quotation marks, as follows:

  • For comprehensive sources, such as books, films, academic journals, or standalone websites, the use of italics is mandated.
  • For titles representing components of a larger work, such as book chapters, journal articles, or sections of a website, the title should be enclosed in quotation marks.
  • Additionally, capitalization should be applied to major words, thereby excluding certain short words such as "a," "the," "or," and "and" from capitalization. This rule is consistent across both the Works Cited page and in-text citations.

Based on the type of titles, MLA format classifies them into the following categories:

  • Quotation Marks Titles: Book chapters, web pages, news articles, journal articles, TV episodes, magazine articles, songs, short stories, poetry, YouTube, or TEDx videos.
  • Italicized Titles: Books, websites, news publications, journals, complete TV shows, magazines, music albums, anthologies, plays, and films.

Capitalization in MLA Title Format

The overarching MLA capitalization guideline necessitates the capitalization of the first and last words in a title or subtitle, in addition to major or principal words. To further elucidate this rule, consider the following examples:

Words You Must Capitalize:

The Type of Words Title Examples
Nouns The Smoke and Mirrors
Pronouns She and He
Verbs Break Your Fears
Adjectives The Diary of a Geek Kid
Adverbs Seriously on Procrastination
Subordinating Conjunctions Because It Matters

Words You Must Not Capitalize:

The Type of Words Title Examples
Articles (a, an, the) Facing the Stream
Prepositions (against, as, between, of, to) Out of Exile
Coordinating Conjunctions (and, but, for, nor, or, so, yet) Native Indians and the Social Challenges
"To" When Used in Infinitives Destined to Win

Nevertheless, an important caveat to remember is the mandatory capitalization of the first word of a title, regardless of its part of speech. For instance, titles beginning with "The," "Against," or any listed word from the table above must invariably commence with a capital letter.

Punctuation in MLA Format Title of Essay

The precision required in the punctuation of MLA format titles of essays demands an astute attention to detail that mirrors the style used in the source title itself. For example, when citing YouTube video titles, an unconventional or unusual punctuation style present in the original may be retained. Conversely, when an essay title contains a subtitle, a colon followed by a space is essential to clearly delineate the two components, even if the original author utilized a different punctuation approach. An exception to this rule occurs when an MLA format title of an essay concludes with a question mark, an exclamation mark, or a dash; in these instances, retaining the original punctuation style is not only respectful but also encouraged. For those who may find this attention to detail overwhelming, an APA paper writer can be a useful resource.

Titles within Titles in MLA Format

When the task at hand involves citing a title within another title in MLA format, the ultimate goals are clarity and precision. When longer works, such as movie titles, are cited within shorter works, the inner title should be italicized—effectively emphasizing its significance within the larger context. For instance, The Star Wars would be incorporated as "The Star Wars and the Foreign Politics of the United States." Conversely, when shorter works are embedded within longer literary works, the inner title is set in single quotation marks, akin to 'The Perry Mason' in "'The Perry Mason' in Retrospect: Why Must We Analyze the Time Period During the 80s to Understand The Legal Aspect." This set of guidelines orchestrates the clear and precise presentation of titles, akin to a well-rehearsed ballet.

Abbreviating Titles in MLA Format

In the domain of academic writing, brevity can hold as much weight as clarity. When abbreviating titles in an MLA format paper, the initial mention of the work should employ the full title, but subsequent references may be shortened, akin to using a familiar nickname for a well-known friend. For example, “The Adventures of Tommy the Thumb” can elegantly be abbreviated to "Tommy the Thumb" in later mentions. The MLA Handbook, serving as a sagacious guide, advises the use of parentheses when an abbreviation might introduce ambiguity. Consider a book titled "The Lonely Shepherd"; in this context, (LS) may serve as your abbreviation. Amid this intricate web of guidelines, even the venerable text of "The Bible" stands as an exception, requiring no further detail in the title, as its context is deeply ingrained in the narrative itself.

Formatting Book Titles in Text: MLA Guidelines

In MLA style, the format of book titles in the text of your paper should be consistent and clear, allowing your reader to easily refer to the Works Cited page for full details of the source. According to MLA style rules, book titles should be italicized in the text of your paper. For example, one might write: In The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald explores the American Dream through his characters.

MLA Book Title Format: Translation and Capitalization

When referencing titles in a foreign language within an English paper, the MLA format requires a specific approach that aims to clarify the source for readers who may not be familiar with the foreign language. As illustrated with the Icelandic book "Týndi Fuglinn" by Magnus Bjarnasón, it should appear as Týndi Fuglinn [A Lost Bird]. This format employs the use of square brackets to incorporate an English translation immediately following the foreign title.

Addressing Sources with No Designated Title

In cases where a source lacks a designated title, MLA guidelines advocate for the formulation of a concise, descriptive label. For instance, an art piece displayed in the Vancouver Arts Museum between 1994-1995 by Martin McFly—an engineering mechanics fly board—might be formatted as: The Engineering Mechanics Fly Board, with only the first word and proper nouns capitalized. This rule is consistent, unless the created title contains the title of another work or specific comments.

  • Comments or Reviews: The descriptive information operates as the title, adhering to standard MLA capitalization rules. Example: Comment on "The Challenges of Racial Conflicts in Alabama."
  • Twitter Posts: The full, unaltered text is utilized, enclosed in quotation marks. Example: “An 'extremely credible source' has called my office and told me that @BarackObama's birth certificate is a fraud.”
  • Emails: The email's subject line is designated as the title, with "Re:" included if applicable. Example: "Re: ProgPower Festival Analysis."

Exceptions in MLA Title Formatting

MLA title formatting has its exceptions. Certain terms that describe a section within a larger work—such as "preface," "introduction," "list of works cited," "appendix," and others—are neither italicized nor enclosed in quotation marks. For instance, in the context of citations, they are capitalized, as demonstrated by the in-text citation (Gibbons, Preface). However, in the narrative of the paper itself, these terms are not capitalized unless they appear at the beginning of a sentence.

Further categories of exceptions include titles that are inherently significant and standardized, such as sacred scriptures, laws and legal acts, musical compositions identified by form, number, or key, and official events like conferences and seminars. For example, the Bible, the U.S. Constitution, and Mozart's Symphony No. 40 in G minor, K. 550 are formatted without italics or quotation marks.

These rules are integral to the MLA style’s emphasis on the clear and consistent presentation of sources, aimed at striking a harmonious balance between honoring the original work and ensuring clarity for the reader.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are titles capitalized in MLA format?
Yes, in MLA format, capitalize the first, last, and principal words of the title, regardless of their grammatical function. How to write book titles in MLA? In MLA format, book titles should be italicized, both in the text of your paper and in the Works Cited list.
How to format movie titles in MLA?
Just like book titles, movie titles should be italicized in the text of your paper and in the Works Cited list. When should I cite a chapter instead of the whole book? Cite a chapter when you are referring to a specific section or chapter of a book rather than the entire book. This is common when the chapter has its own distinct author or title.
What titles must be used with italics in MLA?
In MLA format, use italics for titles of larger works, such as books, journals, films, plays, websites, and television series. It is also used for artworks, like paintings and sculptures.

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