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In the following excerpt, the author is attempting to convey the need for people to create an exhaustive list of their needs and wants. He's calling this a "needs and wants" list.

Based on what I've researched, there are a few ways I could introduce this concept of this type of list to the reader:

  1. The use of italics, such as the case when introducing technical concepts or terms for the first time to the reader:

    Preparing a needs and wants list is a great place to start when analyzing your life.

  2. The use of quotation marks, just as I used above.

    Making a "needs and wants" list helps make everything easier.

  3. Nothing at all, as the concept of a needs and wants list is a familiar concept.

    Prepare your needs and wants list tonight.

I'm strongly leaning towards the use of quotation marks, but, despite fervent googling, I can't quite find any specific or consistent examples in a case such as this.

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In the context of the question, needs and wants is a description or title of a list. The phrase needs and wants is not parsed according to the parts of speech the words usually possess, but are considered a noun phrase used adjectivally to describe list.

Usually when a title of something other than a book is first introduced, it is separated by quotes. Often, the principal elements are capitalized, as in

Preparing a "Needs and Wants" list is a great place to start when analyzing your life.

If the goal is to describe the topic of the list, rather than to give it a formal title, quotes could be used without capitalization.

Underlining was a standard convention for titles of books when typed (since italic fonts were not easily come by). As word processing ascended, underlining has declined, both for titles and emphasis, replaced by italics, which have been used for titles of longer works when typeset for some time.

Ironically, on this site we tend to use italics in places where quotes might more commonly be used by other writers. And that points out the flexibility of forms of emphasis and separation. The rules are much softer now, so do what seems to convey most clearly, unless you are writing for a particular controlled forum, in which case, inquire as to their preferences or rules.

  • God bless you, Bib. That makes complete sense. Thank you so much. – Jonathan LeRoux Mar 16 '16 at 21:30
  • Thank you for the vote of confidence, but others may weigh in with differing viewpoints. It often takes several hours (or sometimes much longer) to collect the range of good suggestions. Please feel free to consider them and change your acceptance if they seem more appropriate. – bib Mar 16 '16 at 21:32
  • Absolutely. One minor follow-up question: I'll be using the term "needs and wants list" throughout the piece. Am I correct in assuming that I would continue to use quotations around "needs and wants," however, foregoing the capitalization? I've been staring at this problem for some time -- my apologies if I'm asking question that seem ridiculous. – Jonathan LeRoux Mar 16 '16 at 21:35
  • Again a question of preference. Often, once a term is defined in quotation marks, they are omitted in subsequent references, just for simplicity and flow. – bib Mar 16 '16 at 21:38
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    Given the phrase in question, omitting the quotation marks without capitalizing is bound to be confusing. Using one or the other is open to preference, using neither probably won't end well. – GetzelR Mar 16 '16 at 22:01
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Or, you could change the list name slightly, to Needs/Wants, which seems to me to sidestep the problem of Italics/Quotes.

  • I'd prefer to forego the use of a virgule, as it's often frowned upon in more formal writing. – Jonathan LeRoux Mar 16 '16 at 21:12
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"Needs and Wants" is the title or label of the list you recommend creating. While both italics and quotation marks seem to be valid approaches, there are some style guides which address the question.

The full Chicago Manual Online is not free to access, but the relevant section seems to be quoted in full here, and the writer assigns similar advice to MLA and APA style guides. As I read those, quotation marks would be their recommendation in a case like this.

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