8 Work titles in text

8.2 Titles of written works

8.2.1 Introduction

The typography and capitalization of the title of a written work depend on whether or not it was published and on the form in which it was published. Publication is not synonymous with printing: works were widely disseminated before the invention of printing and, in the modern era, many ebooks do not exist in hard copy form. Conversely, material that is printed is not necessarily published.

For capitalization of titles see 8.2.3; for use of ‘the’ see 8.2.7.

8.2.2 Typography

Free-standing publications

The title of a free-standing publication is set in italic type. This category comprises works whose identity does not depend on their being part of a larger whole. Such works may be substantial but they may also be short and ephemeral, if published in their own right. They thus include not only books of various kinds (for example novels, monographs, collections of essays, editions of texts, or separately published plays or poems) but also periodicals, pamphlets, titled broadsheets, and published sale and exhibition catalogues:

For Whom the Bell Tolls
Gone with the Wind
The Importance of Being Earnest: A Trivial Comedy for Serious People
Sylvie and Bruno
A Tale of Two Cities
The Merchant of Venice
the third canto of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage
The Economist
Farmer and Stockbreeder
a pamphlet, The Douglas System of Economics, which found a wide sale
Essay toward Settlement, a broadsheet petition published by 19 September 1659

The names of albums, CDs, and collections of songs are given in italic, whereas those of individual songs are in roman with quotation marks: see 8.6.

Digital resources (ebooks, apps, video games, podcasts etc.) should also be in italic: see 8.5.1.

Branded board and card games (Scrabble, Magic: The Gathering) are capitalized and usually roman with no quotation marks; generic names (chess, bridge) are roman lower case.

The names of sacred texts (see 8.3) are set in roman; the titles of ancient epic poems are usually set in italic (the Iliad, Ovid’s Metamorphoses). The Mahābhārata is both a sacred text and an epic poem—roman can be used when reference is made in general terms and italic for a particular published text.

The titles of works published in manuscript before the advent of printing are italicized. They may be consistently styled like those published in print (it is pointless to ask whether, for example, a medieval work that survives in a unique copy was widely distributed, and irrelevant to inquire whether it has been printed in a modern edition):

the document we now call Rectitudines singularum personarum, which originated perhaps in the mid-tenth century

Items within publications

The title of an item within a publication is set in roman type within single quotation marks. This includes titles of short stories, chapters or essays within books, individual poems in collections, articles in periodicals, newspaper columns, individual texts within larger editions, sections within websites, and individual blog articles (see 8.5.1):

‘The Monkey’s Paw’
‘The Old Vicarage, Grantchester’
‘Sailing to Byzantium’
‘Tam o’ Shanter’
‘Three Lectures on Memory’, published in his first volume of essays, Knowledge and Certainty
she began writing a weekly column, ‘Marginal Comments’, for The Spectator
today’s recommendation is ‘Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year’ from OUPblog

There is room for flexibility here. For example, the titles of longer poems—such as Byron’s Don Juan or Tennyson’s In Memoriam—are usually italicized, as are individual Canterbury tales:

the first true editor of the Canterbury Tales
the aristocratic noble love of The Knight’s Tale gives way to the more earthy passions of The Miller’s Tale and The Reeve’s Tale

Series titles

A series of books is not itself a work, and its title is not given the same styling as its component works. The overall title of a series is not normally needed when a book is mentioned, but if given should be set in roman type with the first and principal words capitalized:

the Rough Guides
Studies in Biblical Theology
The Social Structure of Medieval East Anglia, volume 9 of Oxford Studies in Social and Legal History

Descriptions of an edition should not be considered series titles and should not be capitalized, but a publisher’s named edition of the works of a single author may be treated as a series title:

the variorum edition of her Complete Poetry
Dent published the Temple Edition of the Waverley Novels in forty-eight volumes

Titles of series of works of fiction may either be italicized like book titles or set in quotation marks, but loose descriptions of fictional series should not be treated as titles:

The Forsyte Saga

the ‘His Dark Materials’ trilogy, or the His Dark Materials trilogy

the Barsetshire novels

Style the titles of series of works of art like those of series of books (with the exception of series of published prints, which are given italic work titles):

a series of paintings entitled Guyana Myths
a series of prints, in issues of six, Studies from Nature of British Character

Unpublished works

The title of an unpublished work is set in roman type within single quotation marks. This category includes titles of such unpublished works as dissertations and conference papers, and longer unpublished monographs. (However, don’t assume that all doctoral dissertations, for example, remain unpublished: in some universities, publication accompanies the awarding of the degree, or dissertations may be available online only.) The same styling is applied to internal reports, provisional titles used for works before their publication, and titles of works intended for publication but never published, or planned but never written:

his undergraduate dissertation, ‘Leeds as a Regional Capital’
‘Work in Progress’ (published as Finnegans Wake)
Forster later planned to publish an ‘Essay on Punctuation’
an unpublished short play, ‘The Blue Lizard’

This treatment is accorded to unpublished works that are essentially literary compositions. Do not style descriptions of archival items as work titles. References to such material as unpublished personal documents, including diaries and letters, and legal, estate, and administrative records should be given in descriptive form with minimal capitalization:

Dyve’s letter-book is valuable evidence
the diary of Robert Hooke for 3 April
the cartulary of the hospital of St John
the great register of Bury Abbey
the stewards’ accounts in the bursars’ book for 1504–5

Capitalized names are sometimes given to certain manuscripts. It is best to follow the author’s usage (provided it is consistent on its own terms).

the marginal illustrations in the Luttrell Psalter
poems contained in the Book of Taliesin (a thirteenth-century manuscript then preserved at Peniarth)

8.2.3 Capitalization

The capitalization of work titles is a matter for editorial convention; there is no need to follow the style of title pages (many of which present titles in full capitals).

The initial word of a title is always capitalized. The traditional style is to give maximal capitalization to the titles of works published in English, capitalizing the first letter of the first word and of all other important words (for works in other languages see Chapter 12 and 8.8 below). Nouns, adjectives (other than possessives), and verbs are usually given capitals; pronouns and adverbs may or may not be capitalized; articles, conjunctions, and prepositions are usually left uncapitalized. Exactly which words should be capitalized in a particular title is a matter for individual judgement, which may take account of the sense, emphasis, structure, and length of the title. Thus a short title may look best with capitals on words that might be left lower case in a longer title:

An Actor and his Time
All About Eve
Six Men Out of the Ordinary
Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There
What a Carve Up!
Will you Love me Always?

The first word of a subtitle is traditionally capitalized, whatever its part of speech (this is the Oxford style):

Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered
Film Theory: An Introduction

Alternatively, full capitalization may be applied to the main title while the subtitle has simply the capitalization of normal prose:

Rebirth, Reform and Resilience: universities in transition 1300–1700

In titles containing a hyphenated compound capitalize all parts (Through the Looking-Glass, A Behind-the-Scenes Account of the War in Cuba).

It is possible to give minimal capitalization to very long titles (usually from older sources) while applying full capitalization to most titles:

Comfort for an afflicted conscience, wherein is contained both consolation and instruction for the sicke, against the fearfull apprehension of their sinnes, of death and the devill, of the curse of the law, and of the anger and just judgement of God

And it is usual to apply minimal capitalization to the titles of works, most especially poems or traditional songs, that are in fact their opening words:

‘Wish me luck as you wave me goodbye’

If the traditional style is to capitalize the principal words within a work title, a more modern practice—in line with a general tendency to eliminate redundant capitalization—is to capitalize the first word of a title and then to apply the capitalization of normal prose. This style of minimal capitalization, which has long been standard in bibliography, has been adopted more quickly in academic and technical publishing than in general contexts. Even in academic contexts it is applied more frequently to items in roman (such as the titles of articles) than it is to italic titles, and maximal capitalization may be retained for the titles of periodicals after it has been abandoned for the titles of books:

Sheep, their breeds, management and diseases
When champagne became French: wine and the making of a national identity
‘Inequality among world citizens’ in the American Economic Review

8.2.4 Spelling

The original spelling of a title in any language should generally be preserved. US spellings should not be replaced by British ones, or vice versa. However, as with direct quotations from text (see 9.3.1), a limited degree of editorial standardization may be acceptable where the exact original orthography is of no particular relevance. Thus in the titles of early modern works:

  • • orthographic signs (including the ampersand) and abbreviations may be retained or expanded, and superscript letters reproduced or brought down, according to editorial preference

  • • the original’s use of the letters i and j, and of u and v, may be consistently modernized, though it is generally safest to retain the printed forms

  • • a double v (vv) may be changed to the letter w

  • • the long s should always be regularized to s (Perspective Practical, 1672, not Perſpective Practical).

However, before implementing any of these changes, it is important to consult with the author, and to accede to their wishes if they prefer the original forms to be reproduced.

8.2.5 Punctuation

The original punctuation of work titles should generally be retained. However, some punctuation may be inserted to articulate a title in a way that is achieved on a title page by means of line breaks. In addition, title page forms may be made to run more smoothly by amending archaic semicolons and colons to commas; similarly, full points within a title may be changed to commas, semicolons, or colons:

The Great Arch
English State Formation as Cultural Revolution
on a title page may be rendered in text as
The Great Arch: English State Formation as Cultural Revolution
The mathematicall divine; shewing the present miseries of Germany, England and Ireland: being the effects portended by the last comet
may be rendered as
The mathematicall divine, shewing the present miseries of Germany, England and Ireland, being the effects portended by the last comet


A treatise of the bulk and selvedge of the world. Wherein the greatness, littleness, and lastingness of bodies are freely handled
may be rendered as
A treatise of the bulk and selvedge of the world, wherein the greatness, littleness, and lastingness of bodies are freely handled

Again, particularly with archaic titles, it is important to explain your proposed practice to the author.

Two other changes should be made systematically:

  • • Use a colon to separate the main title from a subtitle (replace a dash or rule of any kind in this position with a colon).

  • • Place a comma before and after the word or (or its equivalent in any language) between parallel alternative titles. The second title should be given an initial capital, whether maximal or minimal capitalization is employed:

    The Construction of Nationhood: Ethnicity, Religion and Nationalism
    Parkinson’s law, or, The pursuit of progress
    Senarius, sive, De legibus et licencia veterum poetarum

8.2.6 Truncation

A long title may be silently truncated, with no closing ellipsis, provided the given part is grammatically and logically complete (use a trailing ellipsis if the shortened title is grammatically or logically incomplete). Do not insert the abbreviation etc. or a variant to shorten a title (but retain it if it is printed in the original). Use an ellipsis to indicate the omission of material from the middle of a title.

Opening definite or indefinite articles may be omitted from a title to make the surrounding text read more easily. More severely shortened forms are acceptable if they are accurately extracted from the full title and allow the work to be identified; this is particularly helpful if a work is mentioned frequently and a full title given at its first occurrence.

8.2.7 Use of the

It is a common convention in referring to periodicals to include an initial capitalized and italicized The in titles which consist only of the definite article and one other word, but to exclude the definite article from longer titles. Even when this convention is adopted, the definite article must be omitted from constructions where the article does not properly modify the title (see also 8.9):

The Economist
the New Yorker
he wrote for The Times and the Sunday Times
he was the Times correspondent in Beirut
in the next day’s Times

In the name of the Bible, other sacred texts, and ancient epic poems the definite article is lower case roman, and may be dropped if syntactically expedient:

he spent tuppence on a secondhand Iliad, and was dazzled

8.2.8 Titles within titles

When the title of one work includes that of another this should be indicated with a minimum of intervention in the styling of the main title. The subsidiary title is sometimes placed within single quotation marks:

The History of ‘The Times’

Or, if the main title is italic, the subsidiary title may be set in reverse (roman) font:

Hardy’s Tragic Genius and Tess of the D’Urbervilles

Of course, whichever system is used, practice should be consistent throughout the work.

Underlining text to distinguish it is not recommended: see 7.6.

When one Latin title is incorporated in another the subsidiary title will be fully integrated grammatically into the main title, and there should be neither additional capitalization nor quotation marks:

In quartum librum meteorologicorum Aristotelis commentaria

8.2.9 Italics in titles

Within italic titles containing a reference that would itself be italic in open text (for example ships’ names), do not revert to roman in Oxford style (see 7.1.2):

The Voyage of the Meteor (not The Voyage of the Meteor)

8.2.10 Editorial insertions in titles

See 4.12.2 for a discussion of square brackets. Use square-bracketed insertions in titles very sparingly. The editorial sic should be used only if it removes a real doubt; sic is always italic, while the brackets adopt the surrounding typography:

his Collection of [Latin] nouns and verbs … together with an English syntax
one of them, ‘A borgens [bargain’s] a borgen’, setting a text written in a west-country dialect
The seven cartons [sic] of Raphael Urbino

8.2.11 Bibliographic information and locations

A work mentioned in text may or may not be given a full citation in a note; in either case bibliographic detail additional to its title may be included in the text. Broadly speaking, the elements that are given in the text should be styled according to the conventions that govern citations in the notes or bibliography, but some minor variation may be appropriate (an author’s full forename, for example, may be used rather than initials). Dates of publication are sometimes useful in text, and may be given in open text or in parentheses. Do not include place of publication routinely, but only if relevant to the discussion. Likewise STC (short-title catalogue) numbers may be given in specialist contexts or if helpful in the identification of a rare early work.

Bibliographic abbreviations and contractions used in the notes (e.g. edn, vol., bk, pt, ch.) are generally acceptable in parenthetical citations in text but should be given in full in open text (edition, volume, book, part, chapter). Do not capitalize words representing divisions within works (chapter, canto, section, and so on). Abbreviations used for libraries or archival repositories in notes may be retained in parenthetical citations but should be extended to full forms in open text.

Locations within works can be described in a variety of ways in open text (‘in the third chapter of the second book’; ‘in chapter 3 of book 2’; ‘in book 2, chapter 3’). Parenthetical references may employ the more abbreviated styles used in notes. In some contexts, for example where a text is discussed at length, short citations (for example 2.3.17 to represent book 2, chapter 3, line 17) may be acceptable even in open text. In such forms the numbers should be consistently either closed up to the preceding points or spaced off from them. The text should follow the conventions of the notes as to the use of Arabic or Roman numerals for the components of locations, for example acts, scenes, and lines of plays, or the divisions of classical or medieval texts. In the absence of parallel citations in the notes it is best to use Arabic numerals for all elements.

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