italics and underlining

Italics help certain words to stand out for special reasons: title of a publication, word used as an object, mimicked sound, foreign word, extra emphasis, or direct thoughts. The slant of them makes their specialness obvious so that the reader won’t be confused.

Technically underlining serves the same functions, but generally only with typewriters and handwritten text (like when I write titles on the whiteboard). On the internet, underlining is used almost exclusively to indicate links.

Professional Examples

  • The first of these hopeful notes was from Algis Budrys, then the editor of Fantasy and Science Fiction, who read a story of mine called “The Night of the Tiger” (the inspiration was, I think, an episode of The Fugitive in which Dr. Richard Kimble worked as an attendant cleaning out cages in a zoo or a circus) and wrote: “This is good. Not for us, but good. You have talent. Submit again.”

~from Stephen King’s On Writing

  • Textbooks in American history stand in sharp contrast to other teaching materials. . . . The titles themselves tell the story: The Great Republic, The American Way, Land of Promise, Rise of the American Nation. . . . Chemistry books, for example, are called Chemisty or Principles of Chemistry, not Rise of the Molecule.

~from James Loewen’s Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong

  • . . . and it justified countless USA Today–style contemplations of who we Americans really are . . .

~from Thomas Frank’s What’s the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America

  • The Ocean Queen was a stout, no-nonsense workboat built from thick planks of Alaska yellow cedar, rigged for long-lining and purse seining.

~from John Krakauer’s Into the Wild

  • (The culture of consumption never criticizes them, at least not overtly.)

~from Mark Edmundson’s “On the Uses of a Liberal Education”

  • Moore (1986), however, leaves open the prospect that a more interactive digital medium might serve some of the same developmental functions as backyard play.

~from Henry Jenkins’s “‘Complete Freedom of Movement’: Video Games as Gendered Play Spaces”

  • To prove he had not become a total gringo, my father became a more devout Guevarista, an armchair rebel with a single, loyal follower — me.

~from Hector Tobar’s Americanismo: City of Peasants

  • Several [men] tug at the stitching upon their shirts — Liberty to Slaves — which they believed talismanic, as the inscriptions of the African mallams are said to protect against all injury.

~from M. T. Anderson’s Octavian Nothing: The Kingdom on the Waves

  • From the depths of the building came the banging of hammers on pipe and the long creeeeeee of rusted threads being turned.

~from David Wroblewski’s The Story of Edgar Sawtelle

  • Only story is about story.

~from Stephen King’s On Writing

  • Ever since Stephenie Meyer’s best-selling series of supernatural romance novels spawned a nation of Twilighters, millions of girls (and their moms) have followed the first book’s journey to the screen.

~from Entertainment Weekly‘s “Kristen Stewart talks ‘Twilight'”

How Italics and Underlining Work


Italics are used for titles of publications — books, movies, magazines, television shows, etc — as opposed to titles of what’s inside those publications (chapters, articles, episodes, etc), which get put in quotation marks.

Notice that when something is added to the title, such as a suffix, only the title itself gets italicized, as in the Twilight example above where the suffix -ers is not italicized, nor is the possessive -‘s after Entertainment Weekly.

Other Special Indications

Italics can show a direct thought, a word used as a word rather than in its usual function (as in don’t capitalize and in a title), direct wording such as the name written on a boat or on a shirt (see the Ocean Queen and Liberty to Slaves examples above), a foreign word (as in gringo above), a sound approximated with letters (as in creeeeeee), or simply a word that the author wants to emphasize.


On the internet, you sometimes need to use HTML code to create formats like italics. For WordPress (such as in a comment below), use the code <em>. Simply type <em> and then the word(s) you want italicized. To stop italicizing, type </em>. It should look like this: <em>Entertainment Weekly</em>.



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