The basics of italicization: How to write a movie title in an essay

To italicize or not italicize may not be an eternal question, but it’s a question a lot of students ask, especially when they don’t have much academic writing experience yet. In reality, the rules of italicization are pretty straightforward. All you have to do is memorize them once and for all.

What to italicize

Some of the nuances of italicization might be a bit different depending on the referencing style you’re using. But for the most part, they are pretty much the same (unlike capitalization rules). So here’s the list of things you should always italicize in an academic paper:

  • Books and movies. If you’re wondering how to write a movie title in an essay, the first rule is to do so in italics (for example, Citizen Kane). The same is true for book titles, such as 1984 or To Kill a Mockingbird.

Keep in mind, though, that capitalization rules vary from one referencing style to another. You need to capitalize all meaningful words in MLA but not APA, so it’s Schindler’s List in MLA, yet Schindler’s list in APA. By the way, if you find this too confusing at first, it’s a good idea to get expert help from a paper writing service to avoid capitalization mistakes.

  • Periodicals and databases. The names of periodicals, such as The New York Times or The Washington Post, are also italicized. And so are the titles of academic journals, for example, The Journal of Psychology and JSTOR.
  • Websites. Finally, the names of websites are italicized as well. You’re supposed to write Medium, IMDB, and so on. But this one’s a little less strict, so most professors don’t really deduct any points if you fail to italicize the name of the website.

It’s also advisable to use italics when introducing new terms you’re then defining. For example, if you’re about to discuss operant conditioning in a psychology paper, you should write something along the lines of: “Researchers define operant conditioning as . . . “ But that’s not mandatory, at least for student papers.

What not to italicize

The most common mistake students looking for an answer to the question of how to write a movie title in an essay (or how to write the title of an academic article in a research paper) make is italicizing parts of works. This includes:

  • Articles. Unlike books, the names of articles aren’t italicized. You should write them in quotation marks instead, for example, “How to Deal with Stress at Work” in MLA or “How to deal with stress at work” in APA.
  • Chapters. The same goes for book chapters (for example, “Chapter 7: Verbal and Nonverbal Communication”) because they aren’t considered complete works.
  • Pages on a website. Unlike the names of entire websites, specific pages on the website aren’t italicized.

Also, please don’t italicize a phrase just for emphasis. It’s okay in books but not in academic papers.

Bottom Line

Overall, the rules of italicization are way simpler than most students think. Use italics for all complete works (books, movies, journals, databases) but not their parts. And pay attention to capitalization rules as well. This way, you won’t ever question how to write a movie title in an essay again.



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