CopyCat: Notes from the Copyeditor's Desk

Titles, Italics and Quotation Marks

Have you ever noticed that when book titles are mentioned in Bilkent News articles, they're in quotation marks? Even though your English instructors have told you over and over again that book titles should be in italics?

Your instructors are right, of course. The correct academic style is to italicize book, journal and newspaper titles, and to put the titles of articles in quotation marks.

But newspaper publishing has a style of its own, which is sometimes different from academic style. (Note: "Newspaper style" here refers primarily to the guidelines found in the widely used New York Times and Associated Press style manuals.) One of these differences relates to the use of italics.

Newspapers make very little use of italic type, because the traditional methods of newspaper typesetting couldn't accommodate it very well. Even after electronic methods of type- and imagesetting became the norm, the old rules that were developed to avoid the use of italics continued to determine newspaper style.

So, in many newspapers, book titles still appear in roman (non-italic) type, enclosed in quotation marks: "Moby Dick"; "War and Peace"; "The Grapes of Wrath." Titles of other large works, like plays, films and albums, are treated in the same way: set in roman type, inside quotation marks.

Titles of journals, magazines and newspapers are also set in roman type, but without quotation marks:  The Chronicle of Higher Education; Vanity Fair; The New York Times. If the definite article "the" is usually spoken or written before the name of the publication, it's capitalized, whether or not it's part of the formal title.

For titles of journal, magazine and newspaper articles, newspaper style is the same as academic style: article titles are set in roman type, within quotation marks. The same is true for other small works, or works that are part of a larger collection, like poems and songs: the titles are in roman type, inside quotation marks.

Another situation where italic type is normally used is to set off foreign words and phrases. (An exception to this is proper names, which should never be italicized.) Here, too, newspaper style generally avoids italics -- foreign words are set in roman type, just like the text surrounding them.

One more example comes from the field of biology, where the correct form is to italicize a binomial, or "Latin" species name (consisting of the genus name, capitalized, and the species name). But in newspaper style, binomials are set -- you guessed it -- in roman type, not italics: Homo sapiens.

Just a reminder in closing: when you're writing an academic paper, newspaper style rules don't apply. Instead, be sure to follow the guidelines your course instructor gives you.