As creatives, we’re constantly confronted with a jumble of product names, terminology, titles and quotations that raise confounding questions about the proper way to use typography in our documents and designs.

This post can help you decide how a specific text passage should appear. It is by no means a definitive nor complete reference dissertation on writing syntax. Instead, this is a quick reference guide for properly adding emphasis to text passages in your designs.

Using Italics and Quote Marks

In modern marketing, italic type is a modern method that replaces underlined and bolded text in older typographic styles. They are commonly used to emphasize a specific word or passage, as well as for the titles of major works such as books, music albums, plays and films.

Quote marks are used most often for shorter works such as essays, articles, short stories, songs, poems and of course, for quotations. Quotes are also used for components of larger works, such as book chapters and television episodes.

Italicizing Long Passages

One of the great design principles in using italic type is to do so judiciously. But design templates and standards sometime call for the use of italics in longer passages that include:

  • Opening paragraphs or abstracts
  • Image captions
  • Quotations, especially when they appear as inset paragraphs

Since the main reason for using italics is to emphasize words and short passages, overuse of italics — such as for entire sentences or paragraphs — defeats that purpose and makes them hard to read. So try to avoid italicizing long passages whenever you can.

The remainder of this post provides a quick summary of various text passages used in modern writing and the most common syntax used to present those passages.

Technical and Scientific

Words Treatment Usage Example
Terms Italics Uranus rotates in retrograde, so the sun rises in the west
Species Italics The discovery links Homo sapiens to Homo neanderthalensis
Math symbols Italics Solve for n in the following equation

Publications

Words Treatment Usage Example
Magazines Italics Condé Nast Traveler captivated the explorer in me
Journals Italics Their study appeared in New England Journal of Medicine
Newspapers Italics She contributed articles to Scientific American for years
Leading “The” No italics The article appeared in Monday’s edition of The Boston Globe

Entertainment

Words Treatment Usage Example
Plays Italics July’s production is A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Movies Italics Luke learned the truth in The Empire Strikes Back
TV programs Italics There were only 45 episodes of Flying Circus
Episodes Quotes The fourth episode of 2014 was “The Silent Messenger”
Comic strips Italics After all these years, I am still a Peanuts fan
Podcasts Italics I learn something every time I listen to Kim Proctor’s Design Details

Literary Works

Words Treatment Usage Example
Book titles Italics Everyone’s reaction to The Kite Runner was unique
Chapters Quotes Chapter 7 is entitled “Next Day, Same Place”
Poems Quotes My life story is “The Road Not Taken”
Short stories Quotes “Notes of a Native Son” was written by James Baldwin
Essays Quotes “The Hitchhiker” scared me so badly that I have yet to read it again
Articles Quotes The events were covered in “Beach Day Goes Bad”

Music and Art

Words Treatment Usage Example
Music albums Italics Abbey Road is still my favorite album
Songs Quotes They opened the concert with “Nights in White Satin”
Symphonies Italics My favorite Beethoven composition is Symphony No. 9
Movements Quotes “Waves of Freedom” ends the symphony with incredible energy
Works of art Italics The Starry Night hangs on the wall of my study

Public Names and Places

Words Treatment Usage Example
Sacred texts Initial Caps The Quran and The Bible both include this lesson
Famous documents Initial Caps The Declaration of Independence was written in Philadelphia
Wars and battles Initial Caps The Battle of Waterloo took place in 1815

Business and Brands

Words Treatment Usage Example
Companies Initial Caps The early competitors included IBM and Compaq
Product names Initial Caps They sell Samsung, LG and Sony televisions
Restaurants Initial Caps Venetti’s on Pine Street makes the best pizza in town
Stores Initial Caps You can get that striped sweater at Nordstrom

Transportation

Words Treatment Usage Example
Vehicles Initial Caps The Corvette is made by the Chevrolet division of General Motors
Trains Italics Thalys links Cologne to Paris and Brussels
Ships Italics HMS Victory is one of the largest wooden warships ever built
Spaceships Italics Atlantis was the last shuttle to launch into space

Institutions and Law

Words Treatment Usage Example
Houses of worship Initial Caps The city is home to the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher
Institutions Initial Caps The Department of Health is across the street
Museums Initial Caps The Museé Rodin in Paris and Stanford University in California have excellent sculpture gardens
Schools Initial Caps McGill University was founded in 1821 in Montréal
Legal cases Italics The issue was finally solved in “Johansson vs. Klein” in 1961

Special Cases

Words Treatment Usage Example
Sounds as words Italics I heard an ominous grrrr coming from the dark cave
Foreign words Italics We each had an eerie feeling of déjà vu
Italics within italics No italics She reads the New York Times every Sunday

Consult with Authorities

The text treatments summarized above are by no means definitive, and these conventions are sometimes overridden by style guides and requirements of organizations and publications.

If you’re writing for a scholarly endeavor, it’s best to consult with academic authorities. They often have standard formats for research and academic papers with specific style and syntax requirements.

Similarly, if you are doing technical or marketing writing for an organization, there is a reasonable chance that they have established style and formatting rules for their publications.