Italics vs. Quotations

Due to a memoir I am editing for a client, I am currently thinking about several ways in which editing becomes important to the cohesiveness of a document. Today, I’d like to share about a way a writer can add major consistency into a manuscript, website page, or article. So let’s dive in and talk about when to use italics or quotation marks around a word or phrase. It can be confusing, and just like my client, you may just be using them here or there without thinking about it. In reality, it does make a big difference in the professionalism of your documents.

When is it appropriate to use italics? And what about quotation marks? These are easy to confuse.

Italics are usually used to emphasize or contrast a specific word or phrase that the writer wants to stand out. Just remember this: italics = emphasis.

I like the following example:

Which looks more professional between these phrases about an airplane crash? 1. A big "boom" or 2. A big boom

If you thought #2 is correct, you are right. When I get to the discussion about quotation marks, you'll see why "boom" is not appropriate.

One thing I think worth noting: several writing style manuals, such as APA, give the advice that a writer would be wise to just rewrite an entire sentence to show emphasis throughout, leaving out the italics altogether if possible.

Another distinction I use when proofreading is between spoken and unspoken words. The following is an example from the memoir I'm going through: She thought, "If only they knew!" is something I changed to: She thought, If only they knew! By editing like this throughout a manuscript, it looks seamless, professional, and flows nicely.

Let's move on to quotation marks! it’s best to use quotations to highlight irony or a euphemism. I like this short blog post that humorously points out why quotations should only be used this way and not for general emphasis: Can I Get a "Ruling": Quotation Marks for Emphasis - Nathan Bransford | Writing, Book Editing, Publishing. In it, you can see why using quotations for emphasis may steer attention away from the true meaning you are trying to convey.

This is why quotation marks can get confusing because as we can see, they are used to show wit, humor and outlandish meanings, yet they are also used around spoken words, conveying truth through references, and longer titles of works. Thanks a lot, English grammar!

Another way I see writers using italics is around Bible verses stated in their text. This would make sense because their goal is to emphasize the text, so it stands out. This is actually incorrect because scripture is text from another book, so, we would highlight it with quotation marks just like we would when referencing any words from an outside source.

Finally, let’s discuss what seems to be the biggest confusion between the two: titles! Use italics when referring to long works (and collections of works) like tv series, novels, albums, or movie titles. Use quotation marks for small sections of works. Examples are individual tv episodes, titles of chapters, magazine articles, and poems. A good example is the following:

The show Gilmore Girls, Season 5, "Written in the Stars" episode.

Let's summarize the basics:

Italics = emphasis, thoughts, long titles

Quotations = irony, euphemism, spoken phrases & words, shorter titles

If you need a proofreader to comb through your manuscript or article and make sure everything looks cohesive and polished, you can book with me here or send me a direct message.