Underlining vs Italics


A question that I commonly am asked is when you should use italics, “quotation marks”, or an underline in a paper, specifically in regard to titles of articles, books, websites, etc. I’ll admit that sometimes even I have to double check myself with this when I’m writing a paper 🙂

This is a great question to ask and something that I figured would be a great post!


In the past, underlining something and italicizing something were seen as being synonymous with one another. However, you’ll basically stick with italics if you’re deciding between the two. The only time I really underline something is when writing something with a pen or pencil. Italicizing and underlining something are basically used in the same instances, so when writing with a writing utensil rather than a computer, it’s admittedly a bit difficult to use italics when writing. In this case, I’ll underline instead because it’s easier to write and read on paper than italics. When you’re writing with a keyboard, a good rule of thumb is to stick with italics when you’re having to decide between underlining something or italicizing it.


Now that we know underlining and italicizing something are similar to one another, we can focus on when italicizing something is used.

For italics, consider the type of work that you’re referencing. If it’s seen as being a big form of work, you’ll put it in italics. Below are a few common instances where italics are used:

  • The title of an anthology or collection
    In an academic setting, many English textbooks will fall under this category since they have many works by many authors
  • The title of a LONG poem
    For these, make sure to consider the length of the poem. If it’s something that could stand alone (or already does stand alone) as a book, you’ll put the title of it in italics. A good example of this is The Odyssey.
  • Title of a book or novel
  • Title of a TV series
    If you’re writing a paper about The Walking Dead or Lost as a whole, you’ll put the name of the show in italics.
  • Title of a movie/film
  • Title of a magazine, newspaper, or journal
    This bullet will apply to scientific journal articles, a specific online or paper newspaper, the name of a magazine, and other similar mediums.
  • Title of CD/album
  • Title of a play
    Shakespeare, for example, wrote a lot of plays. Any of his plays that you reference (MacbethHamlet, Romeo and Juliet, etc.) will be in italics.

Quotation Marks

Above, I’ve made a pretty good list of instances where italics will be used. Now let’s look at quotation marks!

  • Title of a short poem or play
    The Odyssey is quite a lengthy poem. If we consider short poems, usually some that are included in a textbook or a large poetry book with other poems, these individual poems will have quotation marks around the titles.
  • Title of a short story
    This is similar to the previous bullet. If you’re writing about a short story, particularly one that’s included in a textbook or a large book with a collection of short stories, the title of the short story will be in quotation marks.
  • Title of a song
  • Title of a chapter
    You might be writing about a particular book (which will be in italics). If you’re referencing the name of a particular chapter from this book, this chapter will be in quotation marks.
  • Title of an article
    This can include articles in a magazine, newspaper, scientific journal, and even an encyclopedia.
  • Title of a handout
    If you’re given a 1-2 page handout and you’re referencing the handout, you’ll put the name of this handout in quotation marks. As a side note, if this handout is more of a packet or pamphlet than simply a 1-2 page handout, the title of it would be in italics
  • Title of a short skit
  • Title of an episode in a TV series
  • Title of an essay
    This bullet doesn’t apply to the title of your essay necessarily. Usually when you’re putting a title on your essay, you won’t put your own title in quotation marks. Rather, you’ll just write it in the normal font and font size that you’re using. However, if you’re referencing another essay that you wrote or that someone else wrote, you’ll put the title of this essay in quotation marks.

I hope this helps! If all else fails, just remember this:

Big = italics
Small = quotation marks

B is close to I in the alphabet (B for big and I for italics)
S is close to Q (S for small and Q for quotation marks)

Comment below if you have any questions!

~Write on!