Some simple steps to follow when you are unclear on italics.
1. Remember that when you italicize something you are putting an emphasis on it. The word, phrase or sentence will stand out among the rest of the text. Even if you don’t have proofreading rules memorized, a good rule of thumb for italics is to ask yourself, “Do I want to give added attention to this?”
2. Italicize when you are referring to pieces that are complete, long or substantial. A painting would be italicized, as would novels, movies, magazines and newspapers. For example, you might say, “Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night is thought to be his most famous painting.” In this sentence, Starry Night would be in italics. Another example: “Ernest Hemingway was not famous immediately, even with novels such as A Farewell To Arms.” In this sentence, A Farewell To Arms would be italicized.
3. Skip italics when you are referring to something shorter or less significant, such as a short story, a newspaper article, or a report.
4. Do italicize if you are talking about an album title, but do not italicize if you are referring to a song. An example of this would be: “American Idol’s Carrie Underwood released her album Some Hearts with the song “Wasted” which turned out to be a big hit.” In this sentence, Some Hearts would be in italics, while Wasted would be in quotation marks.
5. Think specifics, not types. When referring to the proper names of boats, planes, trains, or space ships, italicize. For example, when talking about the spacecraft Voyager, italicize. However, if you are talking about a plane, such as a Boeing, you would not italicize because this is a variety of airplane, not a specific aircraft.
6. Remember to italicize when using words that are not familiar to the general public. Although it is Spanish, most people recognize the word taco, so there is no need to use italics. On the other hand, people might not immediately recognize the word siesta, which is Spanish for “rest” or “nap.” In this case, you would italicize the word siesta.
7. Distinguish between scientific and common names with italics. If you are referring to a plant or animal and want to use their scientific name, you would italicize. There is no need to do this for common names. For example, the word human would not be italicized, but the scientific term homo sapien, would be.