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Book Titles on the Web

By Judy Vorfeld

What’s the proper way to dis­play the title of a book on a Web page? The tra­di­tional method of under­lin­ing makes it con­fus­ing for Web users, who expect an under­lined word or phrase to be a hyper­link. Should the title be bolded? Italicized? What about quo­ta­tion marks?

A lot of under­lin­ing of book titles is used in bib­li­ogra­phies for schol­arly works, but other than that, it’s not done much on the Web. Or shouldn’t be. And it’s not used in the print world much, either. Underlining was ini­tially used to tell the type­set­ter to put spe­cific text in italics.

The lat­est style guides say to use ital­ics for titles of books, films plays, and long poems, works of art, peri­od­i­cals, etc. One of my favorite online style guides is The Web Content Style Guide by McGovern, Norton, and O’Dowd (2002). Another is The Yahoo! Style Guide. I recently down­loaded it to my Kindle, and it is excellent.

Chicago Manual of Style, 16th Edition (2010) says (8.166) that when quoted in text or listed in a bib­li­og­ra­phy, titles of books, jour­nals, plays, and other free­stand­ing works are ital­i­cized and cap­i­tal­ized head­line style. CMS also says (8.161) that titles of arti­cles, chap­ters, and other shorter works are set in roman text and enclosed in quo­ta­tion marks.

Here are a cou­ple of resources that address this issue: Using Italics and Underlining, and Polished Presentations.


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