How to Write a Book Title in an Essay MLA

In literature, there are some sets of rules for almost every section of writing.

There is a guideline even for mentioning book titles in your essay or research papers. Writing book titles in MLA format is a popular practice in the literary realm to make comprehension of citations easy for instructors.

About MLA Format

The Modern Language Association is a professional union of teachers and scholars who promote the study of literature and language. MLA handbook provides MLA book title format that is now used in all academic papers for citations. The format comes in handy while referring to a book title at any other place in your essay. 


Formatting Book Titles in an Essay MLA

Formatting book titles in an Essay MLA comprises a general rule of italicizing. To make your book title appear distinct, the MLA format title of books requires you to use specific formatting. Follow the below instructions to make your paper comply with the MLA book titles standard. 

  • Distinguish the book title from the rest of the text by writing the complete title in italics. The same approach is noted for writing music albums or film titles. 

For example, “García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude is a reflection of his first-hand experiences growing up in Colombia.” 

  • Not every time are book titles italicized in MLA. When there is a book title within the title of the book you are about to mention, you must keep the font of the secondary title regular contrary to the main one. 

For example, “In The Great Gatsby in the classroom: Searching for the American Dream, David Dowling showcases how teachers can help students establish a connection between The Great Gatsby and today’s social system.” 

  • If you are wondering how to format book titles in MLA if the work is not a single volume edition, note that MLA format allows italicizing the series name. The title is italicized if it appears in every volume of the series, such as Harry Potter & The Goblet of Fire. 

  • When you proceed to mention the title of a book in a paper MLA for the second or third time in your essay, you need not write the complete one. You can use the abbreviation of the title or a part of it that can easily refer readers to the book title in essay MLA. Remember to italicize the abbreviation too.


For example, when writing about The Call of the Wild by Jack London, in subsequent parts, you can refer to the book with The Call, following the rule of italicizing.

Capitalizing Book Titles in an Essay MLA

The second rule talks about the capitalization of the MLA titles of books. Capitalization indicates a beginning of a new sentence, a title, important words in a sentence, or proper nouns for readers. The handbook on “how to write a book title in MLA” also prefers capitalization as a medium to communicate that a phrase is the name of a book. 

  • Similar to the basic concept of grammar, the handbook of MLA mentioning a book title instructs the writer to capitalize the first letter of the first word of the title. 

For example, you will write, In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. Even though “in” is a preposition, it must be capitalized here. 

  • Along with the first word, all the other words in the MLA format book titles should be capitalized, excluding some instances. 

Example: “The title of Aldous Huxley’s science-fiction novel Brave New World is derived from Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

  • The exception in capitalizing book titles in an essay allows an article, preposition, or coordinating conjunction (and, or, but, etc.) to be written in lowercase if they appear anywhere else than the first place of the title. 

For instance, look at The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. In this MLA title of a book, “in” and “the” are a preposition and article respectively, hence the exception. 

  • The format of the MLA book title in text where subordinating conjunctions are used requires them to be capitalized like the rest of the words in the title. 

Example: “The Night Before Christmas by Clement Clarke Moore is a poem with the theme based on the coming of St. Nicholas to give gifts to children.”

Punctuating Book Titles in an Essay MLA

Punctuation plays a vital role in conveying the exact message or argument presented in an essay. The importance remains unquestionable even in the case of the book title in MLA. There are some rules of thumb for punctuating book titles in an essay MLA. 

  • The punctuation used in the original title should not be removed in your citation. If there’s a question mark or an exclamation mark at the end of a book title, or if there are book titles in quotes, you must include that in your write-up too, even if the use of punctuation is incorrect grammatically. 

Such as, “The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch takes you through a person’s journey toward becoming a virtuous, spiritually mature human being.”

  • Ensure italicizing the punctuation mark at the end of the MLA format book title to make it clear that it is a part of the title. For instance, “The play Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? by Edward Albee is the story of a caring couple transforming into cynical enemies.” 

  • In a title that has a subtitle as well, separate the subtitle from the title with a colon and space: Storytelling and Mythmaking: Images from Film and Literature. 

But if the book title ends with a question or exclamation mark, then you do not follow it up with a colon (Whose Music? A Sociology of Musical Language) except when the book title MLA includes another book title in it. In such a case, there must be a colon after the punctuation mark.

  • If there’s a title that ends with a dash or ellipsis, how can you distinguish the punctuation that cannot be identified with italics? You place a comma after such book titles to help readers realize that the ellipsis or dash is part of the title itself. 

For example, you can write, “The famous Shakespearean actor Kelsey Grammer in his autobiography So Far…, lets you see Kelsey as a normal man with blessings and a journey of trials that shape his destiny.” 

This article includes all the guidelines of the MLA format. However, for more information, you should refer to the MLA handout for book titles

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