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10 Basic Rules for Italicization

10 Basic Rules for Italicization

Rule #1: Italicize titles of literary, musical, and artistic works, and of periodicals and
newspapers. It is acceptable to enclose titles in quotation marks; but the simpler and
better approved practice is to italicize them. Here are examples:

 I had a friend who liked Les Misérables.

 Did you watch Yojimbo directed by Akira Kurosawa?
 A recent scientific paper in Nature shows…
 According to a recent article in Time magazine…

Rule #2: If the title of a single literary, musical, or artistic work begins with the, a, or an,
you must not omit the word in writing the title. It should be capitalized and italicized.
Here are examples:

 The Old Man And The Sea

 In A Tale of Two Cities, Dikens…

Rule #3: In writing the name of a newspaper or other periodical, however, an initial the
of the newspaper (or periodical) title should not be capitalized or italicized, even
though it is part of the title. Here are examples:

 He said he read that story in the New York Times magazine.

 I submitted my manuscript to the Journal of Chemical Physics.
 She subscribes to the Washington Post.
 I’ve just read an amazing story in Time magazine.

Note: In reality, however, you will sometimes encounter situations where this rule actually is
broken. I would call this ‘initial the’ problem. For example, some academic journals starting
with ‘The Journal of…’ prefer to use The Journal of… instead of the Journal of…. While the reason
is unclear, editors of these academic periodicals seem to have tendency to treat their periodicals
like a brandable title or a book series.

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10 Basic Rules for Italicization

Rule #4: You can italicize technical terms and the like on their first occurrence; but after
this, the words should be set in roman. Here are examples:

 A writedown is sometimes considered to be synonymous with a write-off. However, a

writedown leaves the asset with a lower value, whereas a write-off is generally
completely removed from the balance sheet.
 Schizophrenia is a psychiatric diagnosis that describes a mental disorder. Schizophrenia
is not the same as dissociative identity disorder, which is previously known as multiple
personality disorder. Unfortunately, schizophrenia and multiple personality disorder are
often confused in popular culture.

Note: Normally you do not set technical terms in quotation marks. This practice is called scared
quotes. Regardless of your intentions, using quotation marks for technical terms may send an
indirect or misleading message to the reader: ”This is not my word,” or “I do not admit this
particular technical (or non-technical) word yet.” In academic writing, using quotation marks
for technical terms should be best avoided.

Rule #5: When a word is spoken of as a word―not used to represent the thing or idea
that it ordinarily represents, and not quoted―it should be italicized. However, when a
word is spoken of as a quoted word, it should usually be included in quotation marks
and not italicized. Here are examples:

 The words epidemic, endemic, and pandemic are sometimes confused.

 In the expression, “we, the people,” “people” is in apposition with “we.”

Rule #6: Unfamiliar foreign words introduced into an English context should usually
be italicized. However, if they are familiar in an English context, they should not be

 Adho mukha shvanasana is one of the most popular yoga postures and is often called
downward facing dog.
 A Roman poet once said: Brevis esse laboro, Obscurus fio. Which means, if you try hard
to be succinct, you merely become obscure.
 He loves sushi, karaoke, and ju-jitsu.
 English is the de facto language of science and technology.

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10 Basic Rules for Italicization

 She ordered a cup of cappuccino.

 et al., in vitro, a priori, i.e.

Note: As you might agree, whether or not a foreign word is familiar is subjective. Thus, some
foreign words may or may not be italicized; whether or not these words are italicized depends
on context, the author, and the reader. Some academic journals suggest that all Latin words be
italicized regardless of whether the words are familiar or not.

Rule #7: You may emphasize a word by italicization. But italics should not be used for
this purpose except in cases where obscurity or misconstruction would result from lack
of emphasis. Since such cases are rare, italicizing for emphasis should be rare.

 Do not be intimidated by the so-called principals. I say so-called, because, from your
standpoint, you are a principal.
 Soros said to Marquez that, because he wanted to buy $300 million of bonds, he
wanted to start by selling $50 million.

Note: This rule is subjective to some extent. It also depends on the format of your writing. If
writing is a little bit formal, you may use italics less frequently.

Rule #8: Italics should not be used for the purpose of calling attention to one’s own
humor or irony.

 She is nice, probably too nice to me.
 I was amazed that the U.S. public debt rose above $10 trillion.
 She is nice, probably too nice to me.
 I was amazed that the U.S. public debt rose above $10 trillion.

Note: This rule is also subjective to some extent. However, please remember, frequent use of
italics for this purpose will not make you look smarter.

Rule #9: Names of ships should be italicized. Examples:

 The Titanic sank during her maiden voyage on 15 April 1912.

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10 Basic Rules for Italicization

 Japanese battleship Yamato

Rule #10: Do not italicize the names of the following: schools, colleges, mercantile firms,
political parties, religious sects, labor unions, fraternities, scientific associations,
buildings, streets, parks, rivers, canals, railroads, governmental authorities, committees,
or departments of public administration, or other names.

4 Copyright © 2009 Teppei Suzuki