The Oxbridge Editing Blog 16th April 2024

When to Use Italics

16th April 2024
Speak right now to our live team of English staff

In typography and writing, italics play a crucial role in conveying emphasis and style. Whether you’re composing an essay, blog post, or professional document, understanding how and when to use italics can significantly enhance your written communication. Let’s delve into the details of italics—what they are, their origins, their purpose, and when to use them effectively.

What Are Italics?

Italics refer to a style of text where the characters are slanted to the right, like this. This distinctive font style is often used to indicate emphasis, highlight specific words or phrases, or differentiate certain text from the surrounding content. Italics are typically shown as a slightly slanted version of the regular font and can vary in degree depending on the design.

The Origin of Italics

The history of italics in typography traces back to the late 15th century, a period marked by significant advancements in printing technology and typographic design. The use of slanted typefaces, known as italics, emerged as a practical solution pioneered by Italian printers in Venice.

The first person to use italic type in print was Aldus Manutius, a Venetian printer, in 1500. Manutius intended his italic type to be used not for emphasis but for the text of small, easily carried editions of popular books (often poetry), replicating the style of handwritten manuscripts of the period. 

The italic style quickly gained traction among printers across Italy and Europe for its aesthetic appeal and functional benefits. As the style became more widely adopted, it acquired the name “italic,” reflecting its Italian origins and association with the innovative typographic practices emerging from Venice and other Italian printing centres.

The Purpose of Italic Font

Italics serve multiple purposes in writing and typography. They play a crucial role in academic writing by distinguishing the titles and names of certain works, such as books and plays, from other types of works, like articles and poems (which use quotation marks instead). This distinction helps readers identify and recognise specific types of content more easily.

In addition to their role in academic writing, italics are commonly used for emphasis, drawing attention to specific words or phrases to indicate importance or significance. By italicising certain terms, writers can convey emphasis and convey their intended tone more effectively.

Overall, italics serve a diverse range of functions in writing and typography, from indicating emphasis and distinguishing titles to denoting foreign words and scientific names. Understanding when and how to use italics effectively can significantly enhance the readability and impact of written content across various contexts.

When to Use Italics

Italics are employed in various contexts to add emphasis, clarity, and distinction to specific words or expressions. Let’s explore instances where italicisation is commonly used:

Long Written Works: Use italics to format titles of long written works such as books, newspapers, journals, and magazines.

Example: I enjoyed reading To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

News Websites and Newspapers: Italicise the names of news websites, newspapers, and other publications.

Example: The article was published on The New York Times website.

Podcasts and Shows: Italicise the titles of podcasts, radio shows, television series, and movies.

Example: Have you listened to the latest episode of The Joe Rogan Experience?

Works of Art: Italicise the titles of paintings, sculptures, photographs, and other works of art.

Example: Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh is a masterpiece of post-impressionist art.

Legal Cases: Italicise the names of legal cases and court decisions.

Example: The ruling in Roe v. Wade was a landmark decision on abortion rights.

Foreign Words: Italicise foreign words or phrases that have not been assimilated into English.

Example: The term schadenfreude refers to pleasure derived from others’ misfortune.

Scientific Names: Italicise genus and species names of plants and animals in scientific writing.

Example: The common house cat is known as Felis catus.

Discussing Words and Letters: Italicise specific words or letters when discussing them as linguistic elements.

Example: The letter “R” is pronounced differently in British and American English.

Emphasis: Use italics to emphasise or highlight specific words or phrases.

Example: The success of the project was crucial to the company’s growth.

Unspoken Thoughts in Novels: Italicise unspoken thoughts or inner dialogue in creative writing to distinguish them from spoken dialogue.

Example: I can’t believe I forgot to bring the presentation, thought Sarah.

When Not to Use Italics

While italics can be a powerful tool, they should be used judiciously:

  • Avoid Overuse: Overusing italics can diminish their impact and readability.
  • Don’t Italicise Common Terms: Reserve italics for words or phrases that genuinely require emphasis or special treatment.
  • Don’t Use it with Bold or Underline:  Avoid using italics together with other stylised typefaces like bold or underline. Choose one style at a time to effectively emphasise your text. Using multiple styles simultaneously could result in redundancy and distract from the intended emphasis.
  • Consistency: Maintain consistency in italics usage within a document or publication.

Enhancing Your Writing with Italics

In summary, italics are a versatile typographic tool that can add emphasis, clarity, and style to your writing. By mastering the art of using italics appropriately, you can improve the readability and impact of your content. Remember to use italics sparingly and purposefully to achieve the desired effect without overwhelming your readers.

Looking for expert assistance in refining your writing? Our professional editing services can help ensure your text is polished and effectively formatted. Contact us today to learn more about how we can enhance your written communication.