Knowing when and how to use quotation marks or italics—or nothing at all—is important for writers. Following are some guidelines.
When you need to highlight text, you have several options: boldface type, underlining, italics, “quotation marks”—or just plain text.
Simple names (of people, places, and things) need to be capitalized.
People examples: John & Jane Doe, Mr. Jones, Dr. Denton, President Roosevelt, Grampa, Rover
Place examples: Disneyland, Glacier National Park, Danny’s Diner, First Street Elementary School
Event examples: Super Bowl, World Series
Brand names and trademark examples: General Motors, Chevrolet, Applebee’s, the Bible, the American Revolution, Amazon, Oreo, Nordstrom
Italics and Quotation Marks
Titles of works are usually put in quotation marks; divisions or those works are then put in quotation marks.
Examples: books, newspapers, magazines, journals, movies, plays, operas, TV shows, songs, poems, most artworks, exhibitions, ship and certain train names
So, a mentioned book title would be italicized; chapter titles would be in quotation marks. A mentioned television series would be italicized; a single episode would be in quotation marks.
When a word is referred to as a word, and not as part of the text, it may be italicized or enclosed within quotation marks. The same is true of letters.
Examples: The word awful literally means “full of awe”. How many times could he say “I” or “me” in the span of 10 minutes?
Examples: The letter c has several pronunciations. On the map, an “X” marked the spot.
Uses of italics
A group of letters that represent a sound are italicized (e.g., grrr, bzzz, sss).
Example: I heard the bzzz of at least a dozen bees.
Unusual foreign words are usually italicized the first time they’re used.
Example: The sign read Peligro: Danger.
Italics are also used to emphasize all or part of a word.
Example: It’s not what you say that counts, it’s what you do. Someone left footprints on the carpet.
Uses of quotation marks
Titles of specific types of works are put inside quotation marks.
Examples: book chapters, programs within a TV or radio series, songs, articles from newspapers/magazines/journals, blog posts
Mottoes are often placed within quotation marks.
Examples: “In God We Trust”, “E Pluribus Unum”
The same is true of dialog.
Example: John said, “Harry, have you met Sally.”
Note that when dialog is interrupted, there are two opening and closing quotation marks (e.g., “Harry”, John said, “have you met Sally.” And when dialog continues into one or more new paragraphs, there’s no closing quotation mark at the end of any paragraph until the end of the complete dialog. Also, dialog within dialog uses single quotation marks (rather than double marks) between the dialog within the double quotation marks of the higher-level dialog.
Use quotation marks around words or phrases used in a non-standard way, or to express sarcasm, irony or mockery.
Example: The stationmaster said that the train was on schedule, if “on schedule” meant plus or minus an hour.
The first use of any invented words should be enclosed within quotation marks.
Examples: splendiferous (splendid-fabulous), ginormous (gigantic-enormous), awkweird (awkward-weird).
When it comes to deciding whether to use italics or quotation marks, you need to keep two things uppermost in your mind: clarity and consistency. Make sure that your choice of formatting assures that the message you’re trying to communicate to your readers is effective.
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