6.2.2 Special Fonts for Emphasis: Italic and Bold Italic font. Like capitalisation, italic font is frequently used on titles of various kinds, and when capitalisation is kept to a minimum (with only a single capital at the beginning of a title, for instance) italicisation is essential for indicating which words make up a title. Depending on the referencing style required, italics can be used to mark the titles of books and other monographs (such as conference proceedings and reports) in the full bibliographical references recorded in reference lists, footnotes and endnotes, as well as the titles of journals and, in certain cases, theses, dissertations and web sites (see Sections 7.2 and 7.3 for further details).

Regardless of which referencing style is adopted, however, italic font should be used to mark titles in the main text and other parts of a thesis beyond the references themselves, but only certain titles should appear in italics:

  • The titles of books and other published monographs (PhD Success: How To Write a Doctoral Thesis), but the titles of chapters, essays and other parts of such publications are not italicised (instead, they are enclosed in quotation marks: see Section 5.6.3 above), and the Bible and the Koran do not appear in italics or quotation marks.
  • The titles of journals (Speculum) and other periodicals, such as newspapers and magazines (Times Colonist), but not the titles of articles and other parts within such periodicals (which are usually enclosed in quotation marks).
  • The titles of plays (Shakespeare’s Othello) and films (Fried Green Tomatoes), but not of the acts and scenes within them.
  • The titles of major musical works (such as symphonies and operas: Mozart’s Don Giovanni), but not when they are referred to more casually: ‘Beethoven’s Ninth.’
  • The titles of radio shows (CBC’s Definitely Not the Opera) and television programmes (Republic of Doyle), but not the titles of the single episodes of either (which are generally marked with quotation marks).
  • The titles of albums and CDs (Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here), but not the titles of the individual songs on them (which are usually set within quotation marks).
  • The titles of long poems that are virtually a book in themselves and/or contain many sections (‘Langland’s Piers Plowman’ and ‘Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales’), but not the titles of separate sections within them, which can be enclosed in quotation marks (‘The Wife of Bath’s Tale’) or not (Passus XIII); also, the titles of collections of poems (Heaney’s Death of a Naturalist), but not the titles of the individual poems within them (which are usually enclosed in quotation marks).
  • The titles of paintings (da Vinci’s Mona Lisa) and sculptures (Michelangelo’s David), but if italics are used for the name of a cycle of paintings, the individual paintings within the cycle might be distinguished differently (simply by capitalisation, for instance, or with quotation marks).
  • The titles of theses, dissertations and web sites are often (but not always) italicised.

Although italicisation, like capitalisation, should be kept to a minimum, italic font is used for several other purposes as well. The names of planes and ships – ‘the Spirit of St Louis’ and ‘the SS Edmund Fitzgerald’ – are usually italicised (but not the ‘SS’ part, whether it stands for ‘Sailing Ship’ or ‘Steam Ship,’ or, alternatively, the ‘HMS’ part, which abbreviates ‘His/Her Majesty’s Ship.’ The names of parties when citing legal cases are usually italicised as well, but not when simply discussing the cases (e.g., ‘In Smith v. Jones, the plaintiff Mr Smith claimed against Mrs Jones’). Mathematical variables often appear in italics, and so can the numbers or letters used for marking items in a list: ‘The following colours were considered: (1) blue, (2) red, (3) green and (4) purple.’ Sometimes italic font is also used on journal volume numbers in reference lists. Stage directions in passages quoted from plays generally appear in italics, and, occasionally, cross references and other instructions to readers (such as see above) do as well. In such cases, the italic font serves to emphasise the directions or instructions, which is just one of the types of emphasis for which italics can be used.

Italics are frequently added, for instance, to the headings of sections and tables and the captions of figures in a thesis to distinguish them from other headings (Participants and Questionnaires) or to emphasise part of a heading (Table 1. Demographic Characteristics of Study Participants), and in such cases the italics might appear on any other mentions of these headings in the text of the thesis as well. Italics can also be used to emphasise terms (poetics and chemotherapy), categories (Group B and the third domain), phrases (artificial lighting inside and darkness outside), literary characters (Emma Woodhouse and Anne Shirley) and letters or special characters (f, é and æ) that are being introduced and/or discussed (see also bold font below and Section 5.6.3). Such emphasis can be extremely effective for clarifying a complex discussion, but only if it is used consistently for equivalent concepts, appropriately for the discipline and sparingly in general. While every letter in a discussion may need to be italicised for clarity whether it has already been introduced or not, using italic font only on the first mention or in association with the initial explanation of terms, categories, phrases and characters effectively clarifies the discussion without cluttering the text. More general use of italics to emphasise words should be avoided as much as possible; in most cases, emphasis via effective vocabulary and sentence structure is much more effective.

A common use of italic font in English scholarly writing is to mark words and phrases of foreign languages that have not yet been naturalised into English. A good dictionary will usually indicate whether a word or phrase should be italicised or not (usually by using italics on the term or not), but they do vary in their recommendations. Many foreign words and phrases do not need to be italicised, including ‘post hoc,’ ‘a priori,’ ‘versus,’ ‘passé,’ ‘pâté,’ ‘avant-garde’ and the Latin abbreviations used in parenthetical and reference material (‘et al.,’ ‘i.e.,’ ‘e.g.,’ ‘vs.’ and the like). If a word or phrase does not appear in English dictionaries or if there is potential for confusing a foreign word with an English one (German Land is a good example), italics should be used, and they should always be used for both genera and species in biological nomenclature (Thymus vulgaris). Italic emphasis of this kind should be applied with care, ensuring, for instance, that foreign words and phrases set in italics within English sentences appear in their nominative form (for example, cor, the Latin word for ‘heart,’ not cordis, its genitive form). Such emphasis should also be used predominantly for short pieces of foreign text; longer passages in foreign languages should appear as quotations, in which case the text should be given precisely as it appears in the source, and italics are not used (for more information on using foreign languages, see Section 8.4, and see also Butcher et al., 2006, Section 6.6, pp.246–247 and Appendices 5, 7, 9 and 10; the Chicago Manual of Style, 2003, Chapter 10; Ritter, 2005, Chapter 12). Italic font should not be used for marking quotations (quotation marks do that job), so italics should not appear on a quotation whether it is in English or a foreign language unless italics are used in the original source or if you want to add your own emphasis to the quotation; if the latter is the case, the italics should be acknowledged as your own by including something like ‘italics my own’ with the citation (for more information on italics in quotations, see Sections 8.3 and 8.4).

Bold font. Bold font tends to be used much less frequently than italic font in scholarly writing, but it can be used for some of the same purposes as italics are. It is frequently used for the title and other headings of a thesis, for instance (Participants and Questionnaires), and for the headings and captions of tables and figures, though sometimes only on the initial part (Table 1. Demographic characteristics of study participants); in such cases, the corresponding references to the sections, tables and figures in the thesis itself are sometimes bold as well. Other cross references can also appear in bold font, though that is rarer. In some referencing systems, bold font is used in the reference list for article and chapter titles (but not usually for book or journal titles) as well as for journal volume numbers. Bold font can also be used much as italic font is to highlight the numbers or letters of items in lists – ‘The following colours were considered: (1) blue, (2) red, (3) green and (4) purple’ – and to emphasise terms (poetics and chemotherapy), categories (Group B and the third domain), phrases (artificial lighting inside and darkness outside), literary characters (Emma Woodhouse and Anne Shirley) and letters or special characters (f, é and æ). Bold font is extremely effective for representing coloured, decorated or large letters when transcribing text from manuscripts. Emphasis via bold font is often used in textbooks, guidebooks and other educational material, but in most academic and scientific contexts it tends to appear far less frequently than italic font does, no doubt because its admirable ability to make text immediately visible also causes it to clutter a page more quickly than either capitals or italic font, so it should always be used very selectively. Both bold and italic fonts are used in specialised ways in some disciplines, however, so do check with your department and/or supervisor if you are unsure of how they should be used in your thesis (for the marking of italic and bold in mathematics and the sciences, for instance, see Butcher et al., 2006, Sections 13.2.1 and 13.2.2, and for the use of italic font in chemistry, see Ritter, 2005, Section 14.4.2).

Punctuation within italic and bold fonts. When either bold or italic font is used, the font style of any punctuation associated with it should be considered carefully. As a general rule, any punctuation within the passage in the special font should also appear in that special font, and any punctuation outside of it should be in a regular roman font. For example, when a comma or full stop follows a word or phrase in italic or bold font, it usually appears in regular roman font (Particularly interesting is his use of the word cor, though it appears rarely in his text). When a possessive is formed from an italicised noun, the apostrophe and ‘s’ or the apostrophe alone if it is a plural should appear in roman font: ‘Othello’s memorable plot’ and ‘Anne of Green Gables’ unforgettable heroine.’ However, in some instances, the special font may extend a little when it comes to punctuation. When, for instance, italic or bold font is used on a title or volume number in a reference list, the full stop, colon or other punctuation following the part in italics or bold may also need to appear in that font (see Sections 7.2 and 7.3), and when a heading in bold or italics is followed immediately by punctuation, as, for instance, paragraph headings are often followed by a full stop or colon, the full stop or colon often appears in the same special font (as it does at the beginning of this paragraph; see also Section 6.1). Keep in mind that special fonts often continue in word-processing programs beyond where you may want them, and since it can be very difficult to determine at a glance in which font small marks of punctuation are set, special care must be taken when using italic and bold fonts to ensure that all punctuation is consistently in the appropriate font.

Italic or bold font within italic or bold font. If you need to use italic or bold font on a certain word or words within a larger passage that is already in italic or bold font, the format varies depending on the circumstances:

  • For bold font within italics, the bold is simply added: Austen herself claimed that the character Emma would not be much liked by readers.
  • For italics within italics, the usual practice is to revert to roman font: Austen herself claimed that the character Emma would not be much liked by readers. For italics within the italic font of a title, however, the italics are simply retained: Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales: The Manuscripts. Occasionally, such a title within a title is indicated by quotation marks: Chaucer’s ‘Canterbury Tales’: The Manuscripts.
  • For italics within bold font, the italics are simply added, in running text, headings and titles alike: Austen herself claimed that the main character of Emma would not be much liked by readers and Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales: The Manuscripts.
  • Although extremely rare, bold font within bold font would logically revert to roman font: Austen herself claimed that the character Emma would not be much liked by readers.

Why PhD Success?

To Graduate Successfully

This article is part of a book called "PhD Success" which focuses on the writing process of a phd thesis, with its aim being to provide sound practices and principles for reporting and formatting in text the methods, results and discussion of even the most innovative and unique research in ways that are clear, correct, professional and persuasive.

The assumption of the book is that the doctoral candidate reading it is both eager to write and more than capable of doing so, but nonetheless requires information and guidance on exactly what he or she should be writing and how best to approach the task. The basic components of a doctoral thesis are outlined and described, as are the elements of complete and accurate scholarly references, and detailed descriptions of writing practices are clarified through the use of numerous examples.

The basic components of a doctoral thesis are outlined and described, as are the elements of complete and accurate scholarly references, and detailed descriptions of writing practices are clarified through the use of numerous examples. PhD Success provides guidance for students familiar with English and the procedures of English universities, but it also acknowledges that many theses in the English language are now written by candidates whose first language is not English, so it carefully explains the scholarly styles, conventions and standards expected of a successful doctoral thesis in the English language.

Individual chapters of this book address reflective and critical writing early in the thesis process; working successfully with thesis supervisors and benefiting from commentary and criticism; drafting and revising effective thesis chapters and developing an academic or scientific argument; writing and formatting a thesis in clear and correct scholarly English; citing, quoting and documenting sources thoroughly and accurately; and preparing for and excelling in thesis meetings and examinations. 

Completing a doctoral thesis successfully requires long and penetrating thought, intellectual rigour and creativity, original research and sound methods (whether established or innovative), precision in recording detail and a wide-ranging thoroughness, as much perseverance and mental toughness as insight and brilliance, and, no matter how many helpful writing guides are consulted, a great deal of hard work over a significant period of time. Writing a thesis can be an enjoyable as well as a challenging experience, however, and even if it is not always so, the personal and professional rewards of achieving such an enormous goal are considerable, as all doctoral candidates no doubt realise, and will last a great deal longer than any problems that may be encountered during the process.

Interested in Proofreading your PhD Thesis? Get in Touch with us

If you are interested in proofreading your PhD thesis or dissertation, please explore our expert dissertation proofreading services.


PhD Dissertation Proofreading

Our PhD dissertation proofreaders specialise in improving grammar, sentence structure, citations, references, clarity, logical flow and readability.

Master’s Dissertation Proofreading

To avoid failure and its consequences, send your dissertation to our master’s dissertation proofreading service.

Scientific Dissertation Proofreading

Our scientific proofreaders specialise in correcting and perfecting the language, editorial styles and references across all science fields.


Devonshire Business Centre
Works Road
Letchworth Garden City
United Kingdom

Contact Us