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Writing academically: Italics

Italics are used in the following circumstances in academic work:


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Titles of things that can stand alone, such as books, journals, films, long poems, TV and radio programmes, famous speeches and artwork. Long, generic religious texts such as the Bible or the Koran (and any books within them) are not italicised unless you are referring to a specific published edition (such as in an in-text citation or reference).


In his influential 1852 discourses The Idea of University, John Henry Newton wrote that...
Lincoln's Gettysburg Address and Martin Luther King's I Have a Dream speech are examples of...

Titles of short poems or short stories are put in quotation marks. The larger collection they belong to is italicised:


"The Song of Myself" appears in Walt Whitman's poetry collection Leaves of Grass.

Names of vehicles and ships

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Names of vehicles such as Apollo 13, H.M.S. Belfast. Note that the H.M.S. is not italicised (nor would U.S.S. be italicised for US ships); an exception is the light opera title H.M.S. Pinafore. Brand names of vehicles e.g. Ford Focus, Boeing 747, are not italicised.

Scientific and technical terms

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Some aspects of technical and scientific writing require italics, as do physical quantities or mathematical constants. Examples include species names such as Homo sapiens, and the constant c (the speed of light).

Foreign words or phrases

Foreign words or phrases should be italicised (e.g. ad valorem) unless they are in common use in the English language (déjà vu, et al.).


Although emphasis should be used with restraint in academic writing, you add it by using italicised text*:

Example:  These pre-existing skills are present in graduates in addition to disciplinary learning outcomes acquired during a university education.

In academic literature, you will also see italics used to emphasize newly coined words/phrases or existing words/phrases that are being used in specific and new ways.

However, other times you will see these emphasized using inverted commas. In your own writing you can use either, but whichever you choose, use it consistently*.

Bassey regards fuzzy generalisations as a way of generalising the results of educational research, and especially of case study work.

Bassey regards 'fuzzy generalisations' as a way of generalising the results of educational research, and especially of case study work.

*If your writing may end up being digitised and published online, accessibility guidelines suggest italics should not be used for emphasis - use bold instead if this is the case.

Words as words

In much the same way as general emphasis, if you are drawing attention to a specific word you can put it in italics:

Example:  The word very is often unnecessarily added to academic writing.


Although this can also be achieved with inverted commas:

Example:  Throughout the interviews, the most consistently used word was 'violence'.

Again, consistent use is required**.

Italicising text that is already in italics

This occasionally happens, for example a book title may contain a word that is already in italics. When this happens the italicisation is reversed. This is also true within your reference list:


Original book title: The Story of Homo sapiens (from Ape to Modern Man).

Your text: The Story of Homo sapiens (from Ape to Modern Man).

** Some departments may have more specific guidance so please check with them.