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I'll start with a clear example. You are writing an essay about the film The Wizard of Oz. Following the rules of titles, you put the film title in italics whenever you use it.

But then you use the words in the context of explaining the story, such as, "They tell her to seek help from the Wizard of Oz."

This is not a reference to the title. In the context of sharing the plot or quoting dialog, there is no reason to put the phrase "Wizard of Oz" in italics.

So, why is my instinct telling me to do so? Not asking you to evaluate my mental state, just saying that I know this is kind of a 'dumb question'. I can't see any standardized formatting reason why you should put the phrase in the title in italics, when it's not referencing the title directly. And yet, I feel like there is an applicable rule I'm forgetting, that is making me lean toward the italics button.

Regarding medium - this is for a weekly free-writing "journal" assignment in a college English class, which the instructor, syllabus and instructions specifically say does not have to meet any formal rules on formatting, punctuation, grammar, citations etc. But it really got me to wondering, because I'm that pedantic, how I should be handling that situation in formal writing situation? And a search of SE and the wider internet yielded no obvious answers.

And while I tried to use a fairly universal example for clarity, the actual subject of the paper I'm writing is The Good Place. Which does add the wrinkle of; if I always put Good Place in italics, should I also put Bad Place in italics? And people thought the philosophy in this show was stomach-ache-inducing. :) Thanks, in advance, for any input.

  • Hi Kat, welcome to writing.se! Take the tour and visit the help center for more information. This is a great first question! Thanks for participating and happy writing! – linksassin Oct 11 at 5:05
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In formal writing, the title of any publication/production etc that you are referencing should be italicized - which you're doing.

What's causing the confusion is when a character or location within that publication shares the same name as the title. That said, if you are referring to the location, character or item - then no italics are used.

So for you Wizard of Oz example, it could look something like:

The Wizard of Oz tells the tale of a young farm girl from Kansas who finds herself in the magical land of Oz. To return home, she and her friends must seek out the Wizard of Oz, who resides in the Emerald City.

Likewise, with the Good Place - if you are referencing the title of the show - italics. If you are referencing the locations, then normal text (i.e. Good Place and Bad Place). It depends on what you're referencing, and the context surrounding it.

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It doesn't matter whether or you use italics so long as you are consistent. The title of the story is irrelevant because you are not referencing the title - you are referencing a character.

Dorothy was advised: she needed to find the Wizard of Oz. But on her way to the Emerald City she got into a brawl with the Wicked Witch of the West. In jail she met the Munchkins who had been accused of sexually assaulting the Tin Man.

  • I think you're confused on one element of the question. "The title of the story" has no relevance to what I'm asking. I'm talking about how the title of a movie, TV show, book, etc. should be in italics. As such, your character argument isn't really relevant to what I'm asking. If I put "The Wizard of Oz" in italics, because it's the title of a movie, it's not really consistent to put "Wizard of Oz" in italics, minus the "The," which should not be capitalized outside of quoting the film's full title. – Kat Oct 11 at 5:30
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    With all due respect, it does matter. Quite a few style guides are pretty clear on this. Titles are italicized, characters, locations, items etc from within the titled work are not - even if they happen to be the same. – Thomo Oct 11 at 6:01
  • @Thomo. I should not have answered. I'm not an American. – Surtsey Oct 11 at 7:35
  • @Surtsey - neither am I. I don't see how that's relevant? – Thomo Oct 12 at 9:09
  • I live in the UK where we a little more pragmatic. We don't have equivalents of the Chicago Manual of Style or Strunk & White, nor do we care for those 'authorities'. e.g. if you want use single quotes - that's okay. But double quotes are cool too. Thoughts in italics can be problematic. As long as you are fairly consistent and your conventions are easily followed . . . it kinda works for us. – Surtsey Oct 12 at 9:53
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The use of italics will only apply when and only when the thing to which you are referring is something you would italicize.

If the title of the movie was Dorthy you would italicize only when referring to the actual work. When referring to the person or the character you would NOT italicize. Similarly, when talking about the actual Wizard of OZ himself, you would NOT italicize because he is not a work.

Your instinct to italicize is probably down to this: it's a title. Not a title of a work, but the title of a person, or in the case of the Good Place, it's a title of a place. It's capitalized and it doesn't feel like a standard "name" per se, so that's likely why you've got the urge.

We use italics to differentiate--to convey information. When the very same words are used, not using the italics lets the reader know that you are not referring to the work/movie/series/book.

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