Writing about Literature

Elements of the Essay

Conventions That Can Cause Problems


Underline or italicize the titles of all books and works published independently, including:

  • long poems (Endymion; Paradise Lost)

  • plays (A Midsummer Night’s Dream; Death and the King’s Horseman)

  • periodicals: newspapers, magazines, scholarly journals, and the like (New York Times; College English)

Use quotation marks for the titles of works that have been published as part of longer works, including:

  • short stories ("A Rose for Emily"; "Happy Endings")

  • essays and periodical articles ("A Rose for ‘A Rose for Emily’ "; "Art and Ideology in Far from the Madding Crowd")

  • poems ("Daddy"; "Ode to a Nightingale")

Generally speaking, you should capitalize the first word of every title, as well as all the other words that aren’t either articles (e.g., the, a); prepositions (e.g., among, in, through); or conjunctions (e.g., and, but). One exception to this rule is the poem in which the first line substitutes for a missing title (a category that includes everything by Emily Dickinson, as well as the sonnets of Shakespeare and Edna St. Vincent Millay). In such cases, only the first word is capitalized. Often, the entire phrase is placed in brackets—as in "[Let me not to the marriage of true minds]"—but you will just as often see such titles without brackets.

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