In English language non-fiction books, it used to be common that foreign words were italicized, including abbreviated Latin words and phrases: op. cit., et al., ceteris paribus, ex post, and so on. In books published in the last 20 years, I notice that this convention is less common and, instead, most books use plain text for foreign words.

Question: Should foreign words be italicized in a dissertation (field: Computational Social Science)? Can you think of a good reason for not doing it?

In my opinion, using italics for these is both helpful to readers and appropriate for a dissertation. I'm inclined to adopt this convention. Since I'm using LaTeX, it is easy for me to do, so there is no issue of extra work or inconsistency.

Our university formatting requirements for dissertations are silent on this and many other detailed issues. My adviser has no opinion, other than that he wants 100% consistency.

Context: I am already going above and beyond the minimal dissertation formatting requirements. All my cross-references are active hyperlinks. I have a full glossary. I have customized URL formatting so that the are visually nice and don't distract from surrounding text (e.g., in bibliography). In this context, italicizing foreign words is a very small matter. I'm posting a question here because I'm genuinely curious about what other people do and their opinion of whether this formatting convention adds value to any reader, not just my committee.

  • What have your recent predecessors in the department done? What do your examiners do?
    – 410 gone
    Commented Jul 31, 2015 at 20:02
  • As far as I know, no recent dissertations in our department have italicized foreign words. My committee members publish in different fields and venues, and adopt the formatting rules of those venues. In other words, they have no position on this one way or the other. They may not even care. Commented Jul 31, 2015 at 20:09
  • In that case, I'd be inclined to do what recent predecessors have done, and leave them roman.
    – 410 gone
    Commented Jul 31, 2015 at 20:34
  • 1
    Obviously, since your dissertation guide is silent about those things, the publication style you're using should govern that. I remember reading specific guidelines on the very same issue in the APA Publication Style guide / manual (which is likely what you're using, if I can guess). Commented Aug 1, 2015 at 2:49
  • Since you're using Latex you can mark the foreign words using some sort of a macro and decide if you want to italicize them or not later in one go. As a traditionalist I prefer to do, but you may find that actually it is more pleasing on the eye not to do so, particularly if you are using a type where the italics are very strongly distinct from the Roman. As an aside I had a physics lecturer once who ardently maintained not only the acute in the word "régime" but also the circumflex in the word "rôle"! This underscores that deciding which word is really a foreign one is not so easy in English.
    – Calchas
    Commented Aug 1, 2015 at 22:06

1 Answer 1


In general, unless your particular institution's style guide has something to say on the matter, this is entirely up to the author to decide. The primary reason not to do so, I think, would be that there are so many foreign words that it becomes impractical to italicize them all (in other words, the italicization becomes too prominent).

Additionally, one can make the argument that over time foreign words appear enough in a foreign language that they end up "borrowed" by the other language. For instance, if I were writing in the humanities, I'd be inclined to italicize Weltanschauung but not schadenfreude or angst.

  • +1. In addition, the last point ("I'd be inclined to italicize Weltanschauung but not schadenfreude or angst.") could be a challenge in terms of the consistency (as those who read the thesis might not use the same criteria as you).
    – damian
    Commented Aug 4, 2015 at 21:16

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