The use of italics in academic writing

The Use of Italics in Dissertations

How italics are used in academic writing is an essential aspect for academic authors to grasp.

Italics are used in multiple places and overall serve a key objective: placing an emphasis on a phrase or sentence and attracting the attention of the reader to it.

Italics can be used in the main body of the piece of writing or its titles/sub-headings.

Editorial styles vary from one place to another; hence, the use of italics is very much subject to the specific guidelines of the journal publisher or university. 

This article gives a one-stop guide to the use of italics in dissertations, essays, theses and journal articles.

The use of italics in titles

Titles, which appear in most essays, come in various forms, titles of: books, films, plays, radio and television programmes, works of art, musical collections, newspapers and periodicals. All of these should be in italic type; for example, Great Expectations, Hamlet, The Sky at Night, The Times, The Mona Lisa. Italic type is also used for names of ships (Queen Mary 2) and legal cases (Brown v Smith). Although titles of books are in italics, any reference to the title of a chapter of a book should be in roman type. Similarly, the title of an episode of a television series should be in roman type; for example, ‘The Sky at Night, Chapter 12: Observing Jupiter’. In the case of unpublished books, italic type is not used. Care should be taken with musical titles, as the title of album is in italics; for example Camelot, but an individual song should be in roman type within quotation marks, ‘What Do the Simple Folk Do?’

Scientific terms, particularly biological nomenclature are usually in italics, but there are some exceptions. The appropriate guide books should be consulted. Some titles do not use italic type, such as books of the Bible or chapters of the Quran.  

In some cases, there is no consensus as to whether italics (or quotation marks) should be used. This is particularly true of traditional board games such as Monopoly. The appropriate style guide should be consulted in this case. However, it is generally accepted that italics is used where a dissertation or other article refers to a video game. However, titles of websites should be in roman type, whereas a web page title should also be roman, but within quotation marks. 

The Use of Italics in Editorial Style 

All academic writing, be it a peer-reviewed article or an essay, needs to follow a specific editorial style. In most styles, italic type is used to indicate emphasis of a particular word or phrase. For example, ‘The decision to proceed should be made after the results have been obtained and not before.’ However, italics should never be overused in this case, as the attempt to emphasise would lose its effect. Sometimes, bold type is used to indicate emphasis, but consistent practice should be followed according to the style guide. 

Another use of italics in a dissertation, thesis, or other academic document is when a new word or term is introduced and which forms a key part of the argument presented. For example, ‘This chapter will discuss theprocedure for conducting the experiment.’ There is no need to use italics for subsequent mention of procedure. Sometimes quotation marks are used instead of italics. 

It is general practice to use italic type for foreign words; for example, mutatis mutandis. Sometimes the English translation can be given in roman type in brackets after the foreign word. However, a foreign word should be italicised only if it considered to be unfamiliar in English. Words such as per annum or café can be regarded as being assimilated into the English language and need not it italicised. This may be a matter of personal opinion, but a reliable dictionary should be consulted. 

Some referencing systems and style guides require lengthy quotations to be in italics rather than in quotation marks.  


Finally, consistency is vital. Following the style guide will ensure this, but even if a style guide is not followed, great care should be taken with consistency throughout the essay. 

Do you need your dissertation or thesis to be proofread by a professional editor? We – at the Ultimate Proofreader – provide expert dissertation proofreading services for MA and PhD students and academics. Get in touch with us for a hassle-free, instant quote.
best proofreading service ukjpg