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Call To Action Examples In Essays Do You Italize

Majid asks:

My first question is: generally, how can we use italic form? Does it matter to how long the quote is?
Secondly, when we open a pare of bracket(parenthesis), should it be sticked to the last word?

Both are very good questions.

First, we use italic text for two main reasons: to place emphasis, and to identify a particular kind of document like a book or journal. We may also use italics as I just did with Majid's question, as a way of quoting without using quotation marks.

In the typewriter age, italics were for printers, not typists. The best we could do was to underline text that we wanted to see in italics. (With the IBM Selectric, we got type balls with italic letters—they were fun, but clumsy.) Now, however, we can use (and abuse) italics as much as we like.

So we can write:
This test is much faster
—and the italics help distinguish "this" test from others. Or we can write:
This test is much faster
—and italics show that the test is very, very fast.

We should use such emphasis very sparingly, however. In the examples I've given, "this" and "much" should be enough emphasis.

We also use italics for the titles of books, magazines, scholarly journals, and major works of art:
Anatomy of Criticism by Northrop Frye
Reader's Digest
Journal of Quaternary Studies
Mona Lisa
The Tale of Genji

For articles within books and journals, and short stories and poems, we use quotation marks:
"Blake After Two Centuries," by Northrop Frye
"Will Iran be Next?" by James Fallows
"A Rose for Emily," by William Faulkner
"Little Gidding," by T. S. Eliot

Italic text draws attention to itself (and creates emphasis) because it's rare. We're used to roman text, like most of the text in this post. I recommend avoiding use of italics for more than one or two paragraphs. Otherwise your readers will grow tired. (By the way, if you must emphasize a word or phrase within a long passage of italics, just use roman text.)

As for parentheses, we use these when we must interrupt a sentence or paragraph with some kind of additional information—as I did in the last paragraph. Again, we use them sparingly because they make the reader stop, instead of moving along with the help of commas, semicolons, and dashes.

When using parentheses within a sentence (as I'm doing here), note that any punctuation you would have used will go after the close of the parenthesis. In my example I needed a comma after "sentence." Instead it went after the parenthetical material. We don't put any extra space between a parenthesis and the word or letter next to it.

(If a whole sentence or more is in parentheses, then it takes a capital letter at the beginning and a period, question mark, or exclamation mark at the end. As in this example, a whole paragraph can be in parentheses. If you must do this, however, perhaps you should think hard about how to blend this interruption into your main text!)

Brackets are slightly different. We use them for parenthetical material within parenthetical material:
(He was a pupil of Socrates [469?-399 BCE] and a well-known political figure.)

(Now I need parentheses again to interrupt myself about two small points: The question mark after the first date means we don't know for sure when Socrates was born, and "BCE" stands for "Before the start of the Common Era." "BC" stands for "Before Christ," but many non-Christians also use the same calendar. So it is preferable to use "BCE.")

We can also use brackets when we are inserting our own comments into a quotation, and we want to make it clear that our original source did not use our words. Suppose, for example, our source said:
"I think he is seriously mistaken" and our readers won't know who "he" is. We can write:
"I think [John Smith] is seriously mistaken."

Thanks for your questions, Majid!

Italics vs. Quotation Marks

Up until a few decades ago, writers had two choices: write in longhand or use a typewriter. Typewriters had one font. The characters were one size only. If you wanted to cut and paste, you needed scissors and adhesive tape.

Writing in italics was all but impossible, except for professional printing companies.

Thanks to today’s computer keyboards, we now have access to italics. So we need a sensible plan for when to use them and when to use quotation marks. Here is a formula we recommend: Put the title of an entire composition in italics. Put the title of a short work—one that is or could be part of a larger undertaking—in quotation marks.

By “composition” we mean a creative, journalistic, or scholarly enterprise that is whole, complex, a thing unto itself. This includes books, movies, plays, TV shows, newspapers, magazines, websites, music albums, operas, musical theater, paintings, sculptures, and other works of art.

The following sentence illustrates the principle: Richard Burton performed the song “Camelot” in the 1960 Broadway musical Camelot. Although the word is the same, “Camelot” the song takes quotation marks because it’s part of a larger work—namely, a full-length show called Camelot.

Italics are also widely used with names of ships, trains, and planes, e.g., the Titanic, the 20th Century Limited,the Spirit of St. Louis. (Note: with ships, do not italicize prefixes such as USS or HMS.)

Quotation marks are customary for components, such as chapter titles in a book, individual episodes of a TV series, songs on a music album, and titles of articles or essays in print or online.

Titles of plays, long and short, are generally italicized. Titles of poems and shorter works of fiction are generally in quotation marks. Long poems, short films, and the extended stories known as “novellas” are a gray area; some people italicize the titles, others put them in quotation marks.

You won’t go wrong with this policy: For a full-blown composition, put the title in italics. For something smaller and less ambitious, e.g., a short story as opposed to a sprawling novel, put the title in quotation marks. That’s the long and the short of it.


Pop quiz
Place italics and quotation marks where they should go.

1. Elvis Presley sang Love Me Tender in the movie Love Me Tender.
2. Chapter 4 of Beautiful Ruins is called The Smile of Heaven.
3. Who sang God Save the Queen on the HMS Bounty?


Pop quiz answers
1. Elvis Presley sang “Love Me Tender” in the movie Love Me Tender.
2. Chapter 4 of Beautiful Ruins is called “The Smile of Heaven.”
3. Who sang “God Save the Queen” on the HMS Bounty? (no points if you italicized HMS)

Posted on Monday, June 16, 2014, at 10:39 pm


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