Following on logically from yesterday, I thought it’d make sense to provide a general style guide for writing blog posts. As I said yesterday, you can feel free to do your own thing, especially as there are different conventions for doing certain things. I just want to write about what works for me, and should produce writing that’s easy to read and intelligible. If you want something more detailed, have a look at the many respected style guides online such as APA, MLA, Chicago, and Oxford (which I think is the one that’s accessible and logical for most people). If you’ve already got used to a particular style guide from university, then of course feel free to stick to that.
Referencing Other Works
This might be most relevant for a lot of people, as many of you are going to write about books, films, TV programmes, poems and other works. There are two basic ways to refer to a work of art: using italics, or using quotation marks. A good rule of thumb is: if it’s a larger, whole work, use italics. If it’s something short, or part of a larger whole, use quotation marks. So, films, novels, comic books, TV programmes, magazines, and plays will all be written in italics. Individual chapters, articles, poems, episodes, or songs should be surrounded by quotation marks. Some examples:
- The poem “The Second Coming” by W.B Yeats first appeared in his collection Michael Robartes and the Dancer.
- My favourite episode of Breaking Bad is “Ozymandias.” The title is a reference to Shelley’s poem “Ozymandias,” which first appeared in The Examiner (a newspaper) in 1818.
Choosing the right punctuation is particularly useful when writing about music, as most albums contain a title track with the same name:
- My favourite Pink Floyd song is “Wish You Were Here.” Wish You Were Here isn’t my favourite of their albums though: that’d be The Dark Side of the Moon.
I think a logical extension of this rule into the blogging world is to italicise the title of a blog (English-Language Thoughts), and put the titles of individual posts in quotation marks (“A Blogger’s Style Guide”).
The rules for capitalisation I wrote about yesterday still apply here. Just remember that artists can choose to ignore such rules (and others, such as those regarding punctuation or spelling), so you should always write a title they way they have. Also note in the last example that band names aren’t italicised. The same goes for anything which is made up of people, e.g. companies, sports teams etc.
Punctuation and Other Bits and Pieces
Here I’ll assume a knowledge of the basics and get into some of the more niggly bits people find tricky.
Quotation marks in general: One thing a lot of people wonder is whether to use double or single quotation marks when quoting or writing dialogue. You can use either as long as you’re consistent. And whichever one you’re using, use the other form when you’re featuring a quotation within a quotation. Personally, I prefer to use double quotation marks as my standard form, as they make it clearer that there’s a quotation as they’re more visible and less-easily confused for apostrophes. Plus, it feels more logical for a quote within a quote to have the smaller form. For example:
“He said ‘Get out of here!’ I couldn’t believe it!”
Punctuation and quotation marks together!: Let’s say you’re writing a list of poems. You know that you put a comma between items in a list, and you know that you put the titles of poems in quotation marks, but do you put the commas inside or outside the quotation marks? Both are possible, but personally I think it looks much better when the punctuation is inside the quotation marks, and that’s generally considered preferable:
I like “Ozymandias,” “The Second Coming,” and “Ode on a Grecian Urn.”
When you’re referring to a word, and not actually using with its usual meaning, you generally put it in quotation marks:
My favourite word is “clump.”
You might have noticed, however, that I don’t do this. I prefer italics, like so:
My favourite word is clump.
I think it’s mainly because quotation marks have become overused to ironically highlight that something is only so-called, e.g.
That was a delicious “meal.”
Italics still have some gravitas about them though, and most importantly, they fulfil the same function: making the word stand out from the others. Italics are generally quite useful in fact. I like to use them for example sentences, to make them stand out, though quotation marks would also work too. They’re also necessary when you’re using a phrase from another language, e.g. enfant terrible, or trompe l’oeil. Note however, that if a word from a foreign language becomes a common part of English, the italics are no longer necessary, e.g. pizza, croissant, restaurant.
Italics are also useful for generally emphasising words, but be careful: if you’re already using italics for other reasons, e.g. example sentences or dialogue, you’re probably better off using bold to avoid confusion. Still, bold works best for words or short phrases, but not long stretches of text (e.g. for character’s internal thoughts), in which case italics works better, so have a look over your whole text to decide which form to use.
And what if you want to emphasise a word in a section of text that’s already italicised, e.g. if you want to show that a character is emphasising a word in their internal dialogue? Then, you simply keep that word in normal typeface:
Man, that was the best burger I’ve ever had! I’ve gotta go back there again soon!
I could go on, but I might never stop if I did. I think what I’ve gone through above covers the most important things to keep your writing clear, visually appealing, and smooth to read. If you’ve got any more questions, let me know in the comments, or have a look through the Oxford Style Guide.
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[…] when he was writing Paradise Lost (yes it’s a poem, but it’s an epic poem, so it gets to be italicised), which was published in 1667. Like using Earth as the name of our planet, I can understand why it […]