Italic type contrasts with roman type. It draws people’s attention to convey meaning. Use italic type sparingly as it can affect readability.
Limit use of italics
Italics are sloping letters. Roman type is upright and the default font type.
Italic type makes text stand out from surrounding roman type. The contrast can help readers notice important words, identify differences and find those words again.
The Australian of the Year honour is a government award. It is different from The Australian’s annual award of the same name. [Publication titles use italics, but not awards.]
Italics lose their effectiveness when many italicised words appear on a page.
Limit italics to the uses described on this page, which link to detailed guidance.
Don’t use italics for:
- large blocks of text
- material that would normally be in italics but is set apart (such as a list of titles under a heading)
- aggregation pages (such as a page listing legislation).
Overuse affects the content’s accessibility, readability and usability.
People with disability experience text in many ways. Many have no problems interpreting your written words in any way you present them.
Italic type has different letter shapes to surrounding text. This feature can cause issues for some people with reading difficulties.
I can read and understand text, even if there are unusual words and shortened forms, or languages other than English.
- Use a consistent type style. For some users, it can be difficult to read the text when presented in a style that is different or unfamiliar. This includes changes to the shapes of letters, as between roman and italic type.
- Avoid chunks of italic text.
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines success criterion:
Guideline 3.1 – readable. (WCAG 2.0 advisory techniques remain relevant.)
Italicise titles of stand-alone works, legal cases and Acts
A title or name in italic type shows that it is formal and complete. Shortened versions of the title and common titles are in roman type. Follow the detailed guidance for referencing and attribution.
Don’t use italics for the titles of sacred texts, such as the Bible or the Koran.
Use italics for the titles of these published works:
- books and periodicals
- most musical compositions
- ballets and operas
- films, videos and podcasts
- television and radio programs
David Williamson’s play Emerald city was first performed in 1987.
Elena Kats-Chernin’s Piano concerto no. 3 is a recent work by the award-winning composer.
In 2018, Yvette Coppersmith won the Archibald Prize with Self-portrait, after George Lambert.
Unpublished works are in roman type.
Reverse italics in titles of published works
In some titles, there are words that would normally be italicised. To make sure they stand out from the rest of the italicised title, write the words in roman type. This is called ‘reverse italics’.
Gone on the Ghan and other great railway journeys of Australia [The Ghan is the official name of a train; it would normally be italicised.]
Full titles of Acts and legal cases
Use italics for primary legislation and legal cases but not for delegated legislation or bills. Follow the guidance for legal material.
The Franklin Dam Case is the informal title of Commonwealth v Tasmania (1983) 158 CLR 1. The case led to the World Heritage Properties Conservation Bill which became an Act in 1983. In 1999, the Act was replaced by parts of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.
[The case name and the Act are italicised; the name for the bill, before enacted, is in roman type.]
Set off most foreign words and phrases
Italics contrast words and phrases that are not in English from surrounding text. Foreign words and phrases should generally be avoided in government writing, unless there is no English equivalent.
The more things change, plus c’est la même.
Standard Australian English can absorb words or phrases from other languages. Write these ‘borrowed’ words without italics or accent marks.
John was the head barista at the department’s coffee shop.
Check a dictionary if you are unsure about whether a word of foreign origin should be italics.
Do not italicise names or words from First Nations languages. They are Australian languages, not foreign languages.
Don’t use italics for Latin shortened forms
The ‘common use’ principle applies to Latin shortened forms (such as ‘etc.’ and ‘i.e.’). Write the full Latin word in italics but not the shortened form.
The abbreviation ‘cf.’ is from the Latin word confer and means ‘compare’.
Show that formulas and some text have special meaning
Italics are often used for the first instance of a technical term when it’s defined or introduced for the first time. Instead, to draw attention to words with special meaning, use single quotation marks.
Specialist uses of italics include well-known mathematical theorems and formulas.
Pythagoras’s theorem for a right-angled triangle proved that a2 + b2 = c2.
Some content needs to be set apart from the text for readers to make sense of it. Examples of italicised notes, instructions and extra material in published works include:
- Theatre and film scripts can use italics for stage directions.
- Books often italicise a prelude or brief introductory remark to set the scene.
- Musical scripts sometimes use italics for instructions.
Remember to avoid blocks of italics wherever possible. Blocks of italics are difficult to read, so consider other formatting and design options.
Official names of vehicles
Ships, trains, aircraft and other vehicles sometimes have a proper name. The name is in italics excluding any definite article. The brand or type of vehicle is in roman type.
Until 1997, Queen Elizabeth II would use the Britannia to sail to official visits overseas. [The definite article ‘the’ is in roman type, while the ship’s official name is in italics.]
Qantas uses Australian names like Great Southern Land for the Dreamliner fleet.
Follow the detailed guidance for official names of vehicles.
Use italics for the genus and species, including any subspecies, but not for the common name.
Write the scientific names of infectious organisms, including some bacteria and fungi, in italics.
Acacia phlebocarpa is the scientific name for the tabletop wattle.
Certain strains of the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus cause golden staph.
Stress words with special emphasis, but rarely
Sometimes you want to stress a word for meaning or to convey emotion, including a change in tone. Italics, used sparingly, can work for this purpose.
‘I didn’t mean her,’ they said, ‘I meant him.’
The deadline is Monday, not Friday.
Don’t use italics when another style or formatting option is available. Single quotation marks can work for emphasis unless they’re serving a different stylistic use.
Emphasis in quotations
Sometimes, you might want to add italics to quotations to bring attention to particular words or phrases. If you do this, write ‘emphasis added’ in square brackets following the italicised text. This way, people will know the italics didn’t appear in the original quotation.
‘Subsequently, in 1903, Parliament passed a unanimous resolution that it should be flown.’ [emphasis added]
If the italics is part of the original text, write ‘emphasis from original’ in the square brackets following the quotation.
The digital edition revises guidance on italics.
The Content Guide recommended avoiding use of italics. The digital edition outlines limited uses for italics. It reinstates the use of italics for Acts and titles of formal publications.
The sixth edition use of italics for titles is retained, with the exception of long poems. Italicised titles are now reserved for poems in book form.
The digital edition departs from sixth edition advice to use italics for letters, words and phrases cited as themselves, terms that are deliberately misused and terms that are newly coined. This reflects expert advice about limiting the use of italics in digital content to ensure readability and accessibility.
The guidance for reverse italics has changed from the sixth edition, which recommended single quotes in addition to roman type for words embedded in an italicised title. The digital edition change is in keeping with the principle of minimal punctuation.
The digital edition recommends against use of italics for names or words from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages. This departs from stylistic convention: ‘borrowed’ words (not absorbed into Australian English) are otherwise italicised.
About this page
American Psychological Association (2020) Publication manual of the American Psychological Association, 7th edn, American Psychological Association, Washington DC.
Australian House of Representatives (1908) Debates, HR19:10969.
Gustafsdottir G (30 March 2020) ‘Accessibility: bold vs. strong and italics vs. emphasis’, Siteimprove, accessed 17 June 2020.
Intelligent Editing (8 June 2015) ‘How to decide if you should italicize foreign words and phrases’, Intelligent Editing, accessed 17 June 2020.
Mann T (ed) (2013) Australian law dictionary, 2nd edn, Oxford University Press, South Melbourne.
Melbourne University Law Review Association Inc and Melbourne Journal of International Law (2018) Australian guide to legal citation, 4th edn, Melbourne University Law Review Association Inc, accessed 17 June 2020.
Miniukovich A et al (2017) ‘Design guidelines for web readability’ [conference presentation], 2017 DIS’17: Designing Interactive Systems Conference 2017, Edinburgh, accessed 17 June 2020.
Hetherington P (2019) Advice on style for poetry titles [unpublished training materials], University Of Canberra International Poetry Studies Institute, Canberra.
Oxford University Press (2016) New Oxford style manual, Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Peters P (2007) The Cambridge guide to Australian English usage, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
Purchase S (1998) The little book of style, AusInfo, Department of Finance and Administration, Canberra.
University of Chicago (2017) Chicago manual of style, 17th edn, University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
W3C (Worldwide Web Consortium) (2016) ‘Readable: understanding Guideline 3.1’, Understanding WCAG 2.0: A guide to understanding and implementing WCAG 2.0, W3C website.
This page was updated Monday 6 September 2021.