You’re writing a paper for school and suddenly you stop in the middle of the sentence. You have to write a book title, but you don’t how to format it. How do you format a book title in MLA style? Good news: you’re in the write place (sorry, I had to).

In this post, we’ll talk about MLA style and formatting, whether it’s appropriate for your project, and most importantly, how to write a book title in MLA style.

How to Write a Book Title in MLA Formatting

What Is MLA?

MLA stands for Modern Language Association, a society primarily based in the United States but with international standing, that has a mission to “strengthen the study and teaching of language and literature”. Founded in the late 1800s by an American novelist and professor, MLA publishes a set of resources used by students and teachers, including the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers.

The MLA handbook is one of the main style manuals for students and scholars in the world, especially for anyone studying literature, film, or theater.

Should You Format Based on MLA Style?

If you’re writing a paper for a class in literature, theater, or film, absolutely use MLA style. Outside of that, it depends. Here are the most frequent style guides associated with various disciplines:

  • Literature, Film, Theater: MLA
  • Psychology: APA
  • Science (Physics, Biology, Chemistry): CSE or APA
  • Journalism: AP
  • Mathematics: AMA
  • Publishing: Chicago

You can find a full list of international style guides here.

Now that you know if you should be using MLA style, how do you format a book title with it?

How to Format a Book Title in MLA Style: Example

In MLA style, book titles are italicized, as so:

Henry Thorough argues in Walden that the best life is lived in deliberate simplicity so as to discover what life truly is about.

In fact, most style guides, including MLA and Chicago style, require book titles to be italicized, not underlined.

If the book title has a subtitle, the subtitle should be italicized as well and separated by a colon to be formatted correctly for MLA style, as in:

Natural History of the Intellect: the last lectures of Ralph Waldo Emerson

Should You Underline Book Titles in MLA Style?

If you are using MLA style, you should not underline book titles. Instead, italicize the titles.

However, AP style, the guide used by journalists, suggests putting titles in quotation marks, not italicization.

Still, I wouldn’t recommend underlining a book’s title. In fact, I couldn’t find a single style guide that requires book titles to be underlined, but if you know of one that does, let me know in the comments!

Which style guide do you use most? MLA? Chicago? APA? AP? Or do you just write based on your own rules?! Let me know in the comments.


Let’s cement this formatting lesson in our minds by putting it to use right away with the following writing exercise.

What are your favorite books of all time? Write about what you love about them and why they are your favorites for fifteen minutes. Make sure to use the correct formatting for each title!

When your time is up, post your practice in the comments section. And if you post, please be sure to read a few practices by other writers and share your feedback with them.

Happy writing!

Joe Bunting
Joe Bunting is an author and the leader of The Write Practice community. He is also the author of the new book Crowdsourcing Paris, a real life adventure story set in France. It was a #1 New Release on Amazon. You can follow him on Instagram (@jhbunting).
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