Proper Way to Write a Title of a Book

The proper way to write a book title depends on two factors: the context in which you will use the title and the style guide or authority you choose to consult. The Chicago Manual of Style has been published since 1906 and offers writing and citation guidance for publishing and documentation preparation. The Associated Press (AP) Stylebook initially was published in 1977, and addresses grammar, punctuation and usage issues confronted by journalists. Style guides exist in the medical, science, computer, academic and technical fields, and each has its own idiosyncrasies for book titles.

Step 1

Consult the Chicago Manual first when dealing with book titles for the purposes of documentation, including term papers, manuals, essays, white papers and reference works. The Chicago Manual addresses the use of book titles both within the body copy text and in references, footnotes, bibliographies, appendices and other citations.

Step 2

Write the title of a book cited within the body copy of a text by capitalizing the first letter of each word, except for small articles and prepositions (unless the small word is the first word of the title). For example, Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize–winning novel would be written “To Kill a Mockingbird.” It also would be italicized and not include quotation marks. Prepositions and conjunctions of four letters or more should be capitalized (“With,” for example, would be capitalized). AP calls for putting the title in quotes, rather than italicizing it.

Step 3

Write the note number first in a footnote to a book. Follow the note number with the author’s name, the book title (not italicized), the publisher (city and state followed by a colon, then company and year published, in parentheses) and page number. For example:

  1. Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird (New York, NY: J.P. Lippincott, 1960), 165.

Do not use “page” or “p.” before the page number. This style applies only to the first footnote. For subsequent references, type the number of the footnote, the author’s last name and the page number. For example:

  1. Lee, 189.

Step 4

Type the author’s name (last name first) in a bibliography entry. Follow the author's name with a period, then type the book title in italics, followed by a period. Type the city and state of the publisher, a colon, then the publisher’s name and year published. For instance:

Lee, Harper. To Kill a Mockingbird (title italicized). New York, NY: J.P. Lippincott, 1960.

The Modern Language Association Style Guide is a popular alternative to the Chicago Manual of Style as a document citation resource.

There are many more different versions of book title usage and reference entries. For example, the MLA guide directs you to underline a book title when it’s used within the body of another title ("Return to the Titanic (underline): Gash Is Dashed" [an article about a ship]) You’ll have to decide which source you want to use and consult it often for citation purposes.

The Chicago Manual of Style is not available in an online version in its entirety, although there are many sites that reference it.

However confusing, conflicting and fastidious style guides may seem, the most important thing to remember when writing book titles, especially in citations, is to be consistent.

Things You'll Need

  • Style guide or guides
Cite this Article