Students often overuse italics in their essays and theses. Here are some facts about italics that can help improve your writing:
- Italics can be used for foreign language words. For example, ‘It was a quid pro quo agreement’. However, if the foreign word or phrase is well known enough to appear in the Macquarie Dictionary (or whichever major dictionary you are using), there is no need to use italics. Note that ‘et al.’, ‘ibid’, ‘e.g.’ and other Latin words used in referencing are not italicised, according to most major style guides, including APA Style and the Chicago Manual of Style.
- Italics can be used for algebraic letters in formulae. For example, ‘The x is equal to 5.1’.
- Italics can be used to emphasise a word. For example, ‘The assessment was made before the interviews’. However, if you overuse italics in this context, they lose their power and can be distracting to the reader. It is better to avoid using italics for emphasis in formal writing.
- If you wish to italicise a word in a direct quotation, you will need to clarify that they are your italics by inserting ‘[emphasis added]’ immediately after the italics. For example, ‘This is a direct [emphasis added] quotation’.
- Italics are used for major titles of works, such as for books, films, websites and newspapers. However, they are not used for smaller works that are part of bigger works, such as chapters, journal articles, web pages and songs. For example, ‘The article “Five Fast Facts About Italics” appears on the Elite Editing website’.
Good luck with your writing—and use your italics wisely!
Updated 10 October 2018