Learn how to properly use italics and emphasis
Have you ever found yourself questioning your use of italics in a term paper or essay? Does using italicized print worry you to the extent you just avoid italics altogether? When is the right time to use italics? This article will explain when to use those slanted letters and when it is best to leave them upright.
Seven instances when italics are appropriate in an essay
There are approximately seven instances when it is appropriate to use italics in academic writing. Italics will likely appear in papers ranging from the arts to the sciences and will serve many functions. To simplify things, we have defined when to use italics in Arts and Humanities papers (four instances) and when to use them in the Sciences (three instances).
Italics in the Arts
There are many instances when humanities students find themselves unsure whether something they have just written deserves emphasis. If your situation doesn't fall under one of the following categories, use standard font.
When including a title that can stand alone, it should be italicized in almost every instance. This could be the title of a book, a story, a newspaper, or even your favorite television show. Here is an example of a properly written title:
Adam and I watched an episode of Family Guy yesterday; the whole thing was a parody of The Da Vinci Code!
It is important to remember that if a punctuation mark (an exclamation or question mark) is included in the title, you must italicize it as well.
Titles that should not be italicized are those of religious texts. The Bible is not italicized, nor are the titles of the books within it. Shorter titles, such as short stories from an anthology, journal articles, and episodes of television shows, cannot stand alone and thus should not be italicized.
When italicizing titles in footnotes, citations, and bibliographies, remember to reference the style guide required by your professor.
When you really need to emphasize a word in writing, italics are the best way to do it. Italics can be used to ensure readers recognize the word requires emphasis. The effective use of italics in this manner can add flare to writing and indicate more poignant text:
Susan yelled, "I hate microeconomics!"
In this example, the italics serve to illustrate Susan's loathing of microeconomics. Without the emphasis, this sentence may not have stressed how much she truly despises the subject. A word of warning from the professionals at our essay editing service: Always use discretion when italicizing words for the purpose of emphasis in an academic essay. Professors are often annoyed by the overuse of emphasis.
Sounds reproduced as words
If you've ever tried to write a children's book, you may have come across this italics-worthy situation. If a bear growls and you want to present this auditory occurrence in a more immersive way, Grrrrrr! may find its way into your writing. Make sure the distinction between the name of the sound and the sound itself is clear. Meow is the sound a cat makes, but the word makes no attempt at reproducing the sound. On the other hand, should you write "Meeeeeooooowww went the grey barn cat," make sure the reproduced sound gets italicized.
Names of vehicles
When mentioning any vehicle in your academic writing, whether it's the Titanic or Apollo 13, remember to italicize its name. The exception to this rule is the brand name of vehicles. So, if you're writing a paper that requires commentary concerning the Rolls-Royce that kills Myrtle Wilson in The Great Gatsby, leave the italics off.
Italics in the Sciences
There are instances in scientific and technical writing where italics are necessary. These instances may cross over into the realm of Arts writing, but most often they will be seen within the context of technical writing. There are three common instances where italics should be used.
Words in a foreign language
When you are writing a lab report or scientific paper and must include a term written in a foreign language, italics are key. This is often seen in legal or medical papers in the form of Latin words. They appear quite often, and should be italicized to show readers they are in another language. Here is an example from a medical document:
"Three pills are to be administered to the patient ante cibum."
While most people would not write "before meals" in Latin, this term is appropriate in a medical context and thus must be written in Latin, as well as be italicized.
Introducing a term
When a new term is introduced in a scientific essay, it is common practice to write the word in italics upon first use. When readers see a term in italics, they automatically know this is the first time the word has been used and should therefore pay attention to its meaning.
Physical quantities and mathematical constants
When measures of quantity or a mathematical constant are written, they should be placed in italics. A mathematical constant is the letter used to represent a particular static mathematical standard such as:
"When we measured the particle velocity, v, recorded in the experiment…"
The "v" represents the constant in a mathematical equation and thus must be written in italics.
When in doubt, ask for help
Should a time arise when you aren't sure whether to use italics, simply refer to this article to see if your situation falls into any of the categories listed above. If it does, use italics; if it doesn't, it's probably best to use standard font. If you're still unsure, feel free to submit your document to our essay editors for a professional review.
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You're writing an essay, and you want a good grade, or at least to make yourself understood. How can you make this easier for your reader?
When writing a scientific paper or lab report, remember that your purpose is to communicate your findings to the reader and to explain the research behind your findings. However, proving your overall knowledge of the subject in question is just as important.
Technical writers are responsible for conveying complex, specialized information to a more general audience. Successful technical writing tips are as follows: excellent grammar and punctuation, a clear and logical writing style, a genuine understanding of the subject, and strict attention to the accuracy of the information presented.
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We use italics (characters set in type that slants to the right) and underlining to distinguish certain words from others within the text. These typographical devices mean the same thing; therefore, it would be unusual to use both within the same text and it would certainly be unwise to italicize an underlined word. As word-processors and printers become more sophisticated and their published products more professional looking, italics are accepted by more and more instructors. Still, some instructors insist on underlines (probably because they went to school when italics were either technically difficult or practically unreadable). It is still a good idea to ask your instructor before using italics. (The APA Publication Manual continues to insist on underlining.) In this section, we will use italics only, but they should be considered interchangeable with underlined text.
These rules and suggestions do not apply to newspaper writing, which has its own set of regulations in this matter.
Italics do not include punctuation marks (end marks or parentheses, for instance) next to the words being italicized unless those punctuation marks are meant to be considered as part of what is being italicized: "Have you read Stephen King's Pet Semetary? (The question mark is not italicize here.) Also, do not italicize the apostrophe-s which creates the possessive of a title: "What is the Courant 's position on this issue?" You'll have to watch your word-processor on this, as most word-processors will try to italicize the entire word that you double-click on.
Generally, we italicize the titles of things that can stand by themselves. Thus we differentiate between the titles of novels and journals, say, and the titles of poems, short stories, articles, and episodes (for television shows). The titles of these shorter pieces would be surrounded with double quotation marks.
In writing the titles of newspapers, do not italicize the word the, even when it is part of the title (the New York Times), and do not italicize the name of the city in which the newspaper is published unless that name is part of the title: the Hartford Courant, but the London Times.
Other titles that we would italicize include the following:
- Journals and Magazines:Time, U.S. News and World Report, Crazyhorse, Georgia Review
- Plays:Waiting for Godot, Long Day's Journey Into Night
- Long Musical Pieces: Puccini's Madama Butterfly, Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite (but "Waltz of the Flowers"), Schubert's Winterreise (but "Ave Maria"). For musical pieces named by type, number and key Mozart's Divertimento in D major, Barber's Cello Sonata Op. 6 we use neither italics nor quotation marks.
- Cinema:Slingblade, Shine, The Invisible Man
- Television and Radio Programs:Dateline, Seinfeld, Fresh Air, Car Talk
- Artworks: the Venus de Milo, Whistler's The Artist's Mother
- Famous Speeches: Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, Washington's Second Inaugural Address (when that is the actual title of the speech)
- Long Poems (that are extensive enough to appear in a book by themselves): Longfellow's Evangeline, Milton's Paradise Lost, Whitman's Leaves of Grass
- Pamphlets:New Developments in AIDS Research
We do not italicize the titles of long sacred works: the Bible, the Koran. Nor do we italicize the titles of books of the Bible: Genesis, Revelation, 1 Corinthians.
When an exclamation mark or question mark is part of a title, make sure that that mark is italicized along with the title,
- My favorite book is Where Have All the Flowers Gone?
- I love Dr. Seuss's Oh, the Places You'll Go!
(Do not add an additional period to end such sentences.) If the end mark is not part of the title, but is added to indicate a question or exclamation, do not italicize that mark.
- Did you enjoy Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain?
Names of Vehicles
- Orient Express
- U.S.S. Eisenhower (Don't italicize the U.S.S.)
- H.M.S. Pinafore (Don't italicize the H.M.S. when you're talking about the ship. If you're talking about the light opera, then it's part of the title, H.M.S. Pinafore.)
We don't italicize names of vehicles that are brand names: Ford Explorer, Corvette, Nissan Pathfinder, Boeing 747.
Foreign Words or Phrases
- If a word or phrase has become so widely used and understood that it has become part of the English language such as the French "bon voyage" or the abbreviation for the latin et cetera, "etc." we would not italicize it. Often this becomes a matter of private judgment and context. For instance, whether you italicize the Italian sotto voce depends largely on your audience and your subject matter.
Words as Words
- The word basically is often unnecessary and should be removed.
- There were four and's and one therefore in that last sentence. (Notice that the apostrophe-s, used to create the plural of the word-as-word and, is not italicized. See the section on Plurals for additional help.)
- She defines ambiguity in a positive way, as the ability of a word to mean more than one thing at the same time.
Note: It is important not to overdo the use of italics to emphasize words. After a while, it loses its effect and the language starts to sound like something out of a comic book.
- I really don't care what you think! (Notice that just about any word in that sentence could have been italicized, depending on how the person said the sentence.)
- These rules do not apply to newspaper writing.
Words as Reproduced Sounds
- Grrr! went the bear. (But you would say "the bear growled" because growled reports the nature of the sound but doesn't try to reproduce it. Thus the bees buzz but go bzzzz and dogs bark woof!)
- His head hit the stairs, kathunk!
Frequently, mimetically produced sounds are also accompanied by exclamation marks.