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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I. Bibliographic Information
Provide the essential information about the book using the writing style asked for by your professor [e.g., APA, MLA, Chicago, etc.]. Depending on how your professor wants you to organize your review, the bibliographic information represents the heading of your review. In general, it would look like this:
The Whites of Their Eyes: The Tea Party's Revolution and the Battle over American History. By Jill Lepore. (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2010. xii, 207pp.).
Reviewed by [your name].
Begin your review by telling the reader not only the overarching concern of the book in its entirety [the subject area] but also what the author's particular point of view is on that subject [the thesis statement]. If you cannot find an adequate statement in the author's own words or if you find that the thesis statement is not well-developed, then you will have to compose your own introductory thesis statement that does cover all the material. This statement should be no more than one paragraph and must be succinctly stated, accurate, and unbiased.
If you find it difficult to discern the overall aims and objectives of the book [and, be sure to point this out in your review if you determine that this is a deficiency], you may arrive at an understanding of the book's overall purpose by assessing the following:
- Scan the table of contents because it can help you understand how the book was organized and will aid in determining the author's main ideas and how they were developed [e.g., chronologically, topically, etc.].
- Why did the author write on this subject rather than on some other subject?
- From what point of view is the work written?
- Was the author trying to give information, to explain something technical, or to convince the reader of a belief’s validity by dramatizing it in action?
- What is the general field or genre, and how does the book fit into it? If necessary, review related literature from other books and journal articles to familiarize yourself with the field.
- Who is the intended audience?
- What is the author's style? Is it formal or informal? You can evaluate the quality of the writing style by noting some of the following standards: coherence, clarity, originality, forcefulness, accurate use of technical words, conciseness, fullness of development, and fluidity.
- How did the book affect you? Were any prior assumptions you had on the subject that were changed, abandoned, or reinforced after reading the book? How is the book related to your own personal beliefs or assumptions? What personal experiences have you had that relate to the subject?
- How well has the book achieved the goal(s) set forth in the preface, introduction, and/or foreword?
- Would you recommend this book to others? Why or why not?
III. Note the Method
Illustrate your remarks with specific references and quotations that help to illustrate the literary method used to state the research problem, describe the research design, and analyze the findings. In general, authors tend to use the following literary methods, exclusively or in combination.
- Description: The author depicts scenes and events by giving specific details that appeal to the five senses, or to the reader’s imagination. The description presents background and setting. Its primary purpose is to help the reader realize, through as many sensuous details as possible, the way persons, places, and things are within the phenomenon being described.
- Narration: The author tells the story of a series of events, usually thematically or in chronological order. In general, the emphasis in scholarly books is on narration of the events. Narration tells what has happened and, in some cases, using this method to forecast what could happen in the future. Its primary purpose is to draw the reader into a story and create a contextual framework for understanding the research problem.
- Exposition: The author uses explanation and analysis to present a subject or to clarify an idea. Exposition presents the facts about a subject or an issue clearly and as impartially as possible. Its primary purpose is to describe and explain, to document for the historical record an event or phenomenon.
- Argument: The author uses techniques of persuasion to establish understanding of a particular truth, often in the form of a research question, or to convince the reader of its falsity. The overall aim is to persuade the reader to believe something and perhaps to act on that belief. Argument takes sides on an issue and aims to convince the reader that the author's position is valid, logical, and/or reasonable.
IV. Critically Evaluate the Contents
Critical comments should form the bulk of your book review. State whether or not you feel the author's treatment of the subject matter is appropriate for the intended audience. Ask yourself:
- Has the purpose of the book been achieved?
- What contributions does the book make to the field?
- Is the treatment of the subject matter objective or at least balanced in describing all sides of a debate?
- Are there facts and evidence that have been omitted?
- What kinds of data, if any, are used to support the author's thesis statement?
- Can the same data be interpreted to explain alternate outcomes?
- Is the writing style clear and effective?
- Does the book raise important or provocative issues or topics for discussion
- Does the book bring attention to the need for further research?
- What has been left out?
Support your evaluation with evidence from the text and, when possible, state the book's quality in relation to other scholarly sources. If relevant, note of the book's format, such as, layout, binding, typography, etc. Are there tables, charts, maps, illustrations, text boxes, photographs, or other non-textual elements? Do they aid in understanding the text? Describing this is particularly important in books that contain a lot of non-textual elements.
NOTE: It is important to carefully distinguish your views from those of the author so as not to confuse your reader. Be clear when you are describing an author's point of view versus your own.
V. Examine the Front Matter and Back Matter
Front matter refers to anything before the first chapter of the book. Back matter refers to any information included after the final chapter of the book. Front matter is most often numbered separately from the rest of the text in lower case Roman numerals [i.e. i - xi]. Critical commentary about front or back matter is generally only necessary if you believe there is something that diminishes the overall quality of the work [e.g., the indexing is poor] or there is something that is particularly helpful in understanding the book's contents [e.g., foreword places the book in an important context].
The following front matter may be included in a book and may be considered for evaluation when reviewing its overall quality:
- Table of contents -- is it clear? Is it detailed or general? Does it reflect the true contents of the book?
- Author biography -- also found as back matter, the biography of author(s) can be useful in determining the authority of the writer and whether the book builds on prior research or represents new research. In scholarly reviews, noting the author's affiliation can be a factor in helping the reader determine the overall validity of the work [i.e., are they associated with a research center devoted to studying the research problem under investigation].
- Foreword -- the purpose of a foreword is to introduce the reader to the author as well as the book itself, and to help establish credibility for both. A foreword may not contribute any additional information about the book's subject matter, but it serves as a means of validating the book's existence. Later editions of a book sometimes have a new foreword prepended [appearing before an older foreword, if there was one], which may be included to explain how the latest edition differs from previous editions.
- Acknowledgements -- scholarly studies in the social sciences often take many years to write, so authors frequently acknowledge the help and support of others in getting their research published. This can be as innocuous as acknowledging the author's family or the publisher. However, an author may acknowledge prominent scholars or subject experts, staff at key research centers, or people who curate important archival collections. In these particular cases, it may be worth noting these sources of support in your review.
- Preface -- generally describes the genesis, purpose, limitations, and scope of the book and may include acknowledgments of indebtedness to people who have helped the author complete the study. Is the preface helpful in understanding the study? Does it provide an effective framework for understanding what's to follow?
- Chronology -- also may be found as back matter, a chronology is generally included to highlight key events related to the subject of the book. Do the entries contribute to the overall work? Is it detailed or very general?
- List of non-textual elements -- a book that contains a lot of charts, photographs, maps, etc. will often list these items after the table of contents in the order that they appear in the text. Is it useful?
The following back matter may be included in a book and may be considered for evaluation when reviewing the overall quality of the book:
- Afterword -- this is a short, reflective piece written by the author that takes the form of a concluding section, final commentary, or closing statement. It is worth mentioning in a review if it contributes information about the purpose of the book, gives a call to action, summarizes key recommendations or next steps, or asks the reader to consider key points made in the book.
- Appendix -- is the supplementary material in the appendix or appendices well organized? Do they relate to the contents or appear superfluous? Does it contain any essential information that would have been more appropriately integrated into the text?
- Index -- there may be separate indexes for names and subjects or one integrated index. Is the indexing thorough and accurate? Are elements used, such as, bold or italic fonts to help identify specific places in the book? Does the index include "see also" references to direct you to related topics?
- Glossary of Terms -- are the definitions clearly written? Is the glossary comprehensive or are there key terms missing? Are any terms or concepts mentioned in the text not included that should have been?
- Footnotes/Endnotes -- examine any footnotes or endnotes as you read from chapter to chapter. Do they provide important additional information? Do they clarify or extend points made in the body of the text? Should any notes have been better integrated into the text rather than separated?
- Bibliography/References/Further Readings -- review any bibliography, list of references to sources, and/or further readings the author may have included. What kinds of sources appear [e.g., primary or secondary, recent or old, scholarly or popular, etc.]? How does the author make use of them? Be sure to note important omissions of sources that you believe should have been utilized, including important digital resources or archival collections.
VI. Summarize and Comment
State your general conclusions briefly and succinctly. Pay particular attention to the author's concluding chapter and/or afterword. Is the summary convincing? List the principal topics, and briefly summarize the author’s ideas about these topics, main points, and conclusions. If appropriate and to help clarify your overall evaluation, use specific references and quotations to support your statements. If your thesis has been well argued, the conclusion should follow naturally. It can include a final assessment or simply restate your thesis. Do not introduce new information in the conclusion. If you've compared the book to any other works or used other sources in writing the review, be sure to cite them at the end of your book review.
Book Reviews. Writing@CSU. Colorado State University; Book Reviews. The Writing Center. University of North Carolina; Gastel, Barbara. "Special Books Section: A Strategy for Reviewing Books for Journals." BioScience 41 (October 1991): 635-637; Hartley, James. "Reading and Writing Book Reviews Across the Disciplines." Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology 57 (July 2006): 1194–1207; Procter, Margaret. The Book Review or Article Critique. The Lab Report. University College Writing Centre. University of Toronto; Reading a Book to Review It. The Writer’s Handbook. Writing Center. University of Wisconsin, Madison; Scarnecchia, David L. "Writing Book Reviews for the Journal Of Range Management and Rangelands." Rangeland Ecology and Management 57 (2004): 418-421; Simon, Linda. "The Pleasures of Book Reviewing." Journal of Scholarly Publishing 27 (1996): 240-241; Writing a Book Review. The Writing Lab and The OWL. Purdue University; Writing Book Reviews. Writing Tutorial Services, Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning. Indiana University.