When to Underline & When to Use Italics

by ProWritingAid Oct 12, 2016, 0 Comments

Underline or italics?

To italicize or underline. That is the question. How do you handle the titles of magazines, books, newspapers, academic journals, films, television shows, long poems, plays, operas, works of art like paintings and sculptures, music albums, etc.?

Today’s Standards

Nowadays, more people use italics to designate titles, like our new e-book The Novel-Writing Training Plan: 17 Steps to Get Your Ideas in Shape for the Marathon of Writing. This helps distinguish titles of works from websites or links in your content, like ProWritingAid.com. Imagine if you underlined everything, your readers wouldn’t know what is a link and what is the title of a work.

Historically Speaking

Historically writers used underlines to specify titles. Before computers and keyboards, we had to hand-write (gasp!) our work or type it on a typewriter. Either way, italics wasn’t an option. You had to underline if you wanted to designate something.

With the advent of the internet, it became custom to use an underline to indicate a link rather than a title. Imagine if you underlined both online, your readers wouldn’t know what was clickable and what wasn’t.

In printed work, however, computers give us several options for punctuating and formatting our work, but there is still no firm and fast rule because different style guides handle titles and names of works differently.

Stick to Your Style Guide

The Chicago Manual of Style advises that titles of book, magazines, newspapers, works of art, long poem, and other complete works should be italicized.

Check out the Chicago Manual of Style website

The AP Stylebook, on the other hand, states otherwise.

Check out the AP Stylebook

So what is a writer to do?

If you’re submitting your work to an editor, he or she will usually edit your manuscript in the style they lean towards. If you’re submitting to a publisher, it’s best to learn their style first and format your manuscript according to their style guide.

Whichever route you choose, be consistent with it. If you start Chapter 1 by italicizing the names of books and music albums, you should still be italicizing works of art and the names of television shows in Chapter 20.

Same thing if you start off with underlining—stick with it.

Exceptions to Every Rule

Just because the English language isn’t confusing enough, there is an exception to both italics and underlining.

Long sacred works like the Bible or the Koran are never underlined or italicized.

Love grammar? Check out our Grammar Rules posts and these great articles from our archive:


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