Proper Punctuation For Essays

Properly Punctuating Titles

Properly punctuating titles of literature, music, art, movies, and other works can be confusing, and the rules aren’t always consistent from resource to resource regarding this topic. Also, since mistakes are prevalent, we are so used to seeing the wrong punctuation that it actually looks right!

Here are some helpful hints on how to properly punctuate titles using capitalization, italics, underlining, and quotation marks.

Step 1, Capitalize Titles Correctly!

Although rules regarding correct title capitalization vary greatly, here are a few pointers to stand by:  Capitalize the first and last word in a title and every word in the title except articles and prepositions. Some suggest capitalizing prepositions five letters or more in length, and I agree with this simply because it looks better (hence, my business name is All About Writing instead of All about Writing).

Capitalizing involves only the first letter of the word, of course.

When to Use Italics: Titles of Larger Works

Italics indicate the title of a major or larger work. Use italics for titles such as books, novels, magazines, journals, newspapers, and book-length poems, collections and anthologies; CDs, albums, ballets, operas, and longer, classical music compositions; television series,  plays, movies, and films; video games; websites; and works of art and art exhibits.

Just remember, the title of any piece that stands alone as a single, unified work should be italicized.

What About Underlining?

In general, underlining and italics are used interchangeably, so the above rules for italics also apply for underlining.

However, when using the computer or typing, italics should always be used. Underlining should replace italics in handwritten projects only, as who has mastered the art of writing in italics so that it is legible and noticeable?

When to Use Quotation Marks: Titles of Smaller Works

Since quotation marks are tiny, you can remember that they are used for smaller works within the larger work or collection. Use quotation marks for titles of poems, short stories, book chapters, and articles in journals, magazines, and newspapers; and songs, single television episodes, and commercials.

It is important to be consistent throughout your writing with properly using italics versus quotation marks. Writing handbooks (Chicago Manual of Style, MLA, APA, and many others) vary in their rules for capitalizing and punctuating titles. Certain writing projects mandate using one writing handbook’s format over the others, so for academic work, please check with your professor as to the preferred handbook to use for your writing, citation, and punctuation guidelines.

Schedule Your Free Consultation

Remember, All About Writing is here to help with writing, editing and proofreading. We can see you through your writing project, start to finish, and we never mind providing advice when writing questions arise. As always, all of our services offer a free, half-hour, in-person consultation in the Howell area to address any questions or concerns about your project.

Learn more about All About Writing and owner Christa Riddle at Remember, with All About Writing, writing help is just a call or click away! Call us today to schedule your free consultation and get your project underway. We are here to assist with any phase of the project.

-by Christa Riddle







7 Punctuation Guidelines to Follow When You Use Transition Words

by Owen Fourie

Punctuation is often tricky.

When you use transition or linking words, you have to punctuate correctly.

This article will guide you in this particular aspect of your writing. Use it as a complementary reference alongside the article 18 Categories of Linking Words to Use in Your Essays.

Some terms have been underlined in the text and are defined briefly at the end of this article for your convenience.


When you use a transitional word or phrase at the beginning of a sentence,

place a comma after that word or phrase.

I like to read. In particular, books about the African continent arouse my curiosity.


When you use a transitional word to connect two complete sentences,

place a semicolon at the end of the first sentence

followed by the transition word at the beginning of the second sentence

with a comma after the transition word.

I have always had a deep interest in Africa; therefore, it is not surprising that my personal library contains over five hundred volumes with an African theme.


When you use a transitional word or phrase in the middle of a clause,

place a comma before it and after it.

Several rare volumes of my African collection were damaged in a storm many years ago. I have managed, nevertheless, to locate replacements for most of them.


When you use a coordinating conjunction (and, but, for, or, so, yet)

to introduce an independent clause,

place a comma before it.

(In formal writing, it is better not to begin a sentence with one of these words.)

Many people watch film adaptations of African literature before reading the book, but I prefer to read the book before I see the movie.

When you use and or or, it is not necessary to use a comma if the clauses are short and logically related, such as in a cause-and-effect relationship.

We should go now or we shall miss the beginning of Otelo Burning.


When you use a subordinating conjunction (after, although, as, because, before, if, since, unless, when, while … ),

place a comma directly after the dependent clause it introduces

if that clause comes before an independent clause.

After we saw the movie Otelo Burning, we wrote a review.

If the subordinating conjunction introduces a dependent clause that comes after an independent clause, do not use a comma.

I advised my students to read King Solomon’s Minesbefore they saw the 2004 movie version.

If, occasionally, you see that an established writer has used a comma after an independent clause and before a dependent clause, the comma is being employed for emphasis.

You should read King Solomon’s Mines, before you see the movie.


When you use prepositional phrases as transitional phrases,

follow the rules for subordinating conjunctions. (See number 5 above.)

In spite of my advice, some students did not read the book before seeing the movie.

Some students did not read the book before seeing the movie in spite of my advice.


When you use correlative conjunctions (not only … but also),

and you are connecting two independent clauses,

place a comma before the second part of the conjunction (but also).

Out of Africa is not only a superbly written book, but it is also a breathtakingly spectacular movie.

When you use correlative conjunctions,

and you are connecting words or phrases,

do not place a comma before the second part of the conjunction.

Out of Africa is not only a superbly written book but also a breathtakingly spectacular movie.


Brief definitions of terms used in this article

Coordinating conjunction: a word such as and, but, or or. It is used to connect sentences, clauses, phrases, or words that are of equal value in grammar. It is used to introduce a coordinate clause (an independent clause), which is grammatically equal to the main clause of a sentence.

Correlative conjunction: a word that is paired with another word to connect two parts of a sentence: either … or; both … and; not only … but also.

Subordinating conjunction: a word such as although, because, if, or until. It is used to introduce a dependent clause and makes that clause a constituent of an independent clause

Dependent clause: a clause that cannot stand alone and make sense. It needs to be joined to an independent clause. Within a sentence, it serves as a noun, an adjective, or an adverb.

Independent clause: a clause that can stand alone as a complete sentence.

Phrase: a group of words that forms a grammatical unit without making a complete sentence. It does not have a subject-verb combination such as you will find in a clause.

Prepositional phrase: a phrase that contains a preposition at its head and the object of the preposition following it. Such phrases usually function as adjectives or adverbs.


Apply these guidelines as you connect the various parts of your writing to improve the clarity and the flow of your work.


Irish playwright Oscar Wilde once said that he had worked on the proof of one of his poems all morning and took out a comma, but he put it back again in the afternoon. Punctuation is often tricky. If you need help with a specific issue about punctuation, mention it here. Your comments, observations, and questions are welcome.

Here are more articles to help you with English words, grammar, and essay writing.

Copyright © 2012 by English Essay Writing Tips

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