Everything You Need to Know about Italics

Learn how to properly use italics and emphasis in your essay writing

A photograph of the Leaning Tower of Pisa shows the tower between the HTML tags for italics.
Does the thought of using italics
leave you feeling a little left of
center?

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 exactly 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 different 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.

Titles

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.

Emphasis

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 academic editors for a professional review.

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