When a new term is introduced in a book I am writing or an unusual word or phrase is described I either italicize it, or put it in quotes. However, this has led to an inconsistency in which some terms are quoted and others are italicized.

What are the conditions under which I should use italics versus quotation marks for novel words or terminology?

  • This is purely a matter of choice. All questions of style might be your own personal choice, or your editor's or your work group's but that simply means either you follow existing rules, or you make your own choices. In your own work group, what rules are supposed to be followed by everyone? Commented Dec 19, 2018 at 0:35

2 Answers 2


One thing to understand is that the "rules" (such as they are) have been influenced by the typewriter, which was the predominant means for creating text from maybe 1900 until computers became pervasive around 1990.

The thing about the typewriter is that it has only one font, and cannot do italics (and can barely do bold). You either use "quotes" or you underline (alas, SE can't underline). So for nearly 100 years the "standards" for producing one-off documents like academic papers (things that did not undergo regular typesetting) omitted any use of italics.

Of course, nobody uses a typewriter anymore, and any halfway reasonable computerized typing setup can easily handle italics, but the academic guidelines in many cases haven't caught up.

So don't expect anything close to an "iron clad" rule here.

  • @jsw29 - But that only really applied to text that was destined to be typeset, a very small fraction of total typescript. Among other things, underlining was a PITA to accomplish.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Dec 16, 2018 at 4:33

In many cases, there really are no set rules, which is why you see some writers use italics (or even underlines), and some will use quotation marks for the same purpose. Of course, actual quotations should be enclosed in quotation marks, but for the purpose you've mentioned (introducing new or unusual words), either would be acceptable.

What you really need is a style guide that you're comfortable with. Pick one, and stick to it: the key is to be consistent with whichever style you choose.

  • A style guide is typically not something one can just 'pick' (unless it is for the purposes of private correspondence or personal notes); the publisher or other institution one writes for determines the style guide that one is expected to follow.
    – jsw29
    Commented Dec 16, 2018 at 3:32
  • @jsw29 OP says she is writing a book, so I assumed she has some latitude in her choice of style. If the style guide is prescribed by the publisher, then the decision of whether to quote or italicize is that much easier! Commented Dec 16, 2018 at 3:36

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