Should referenced (as opposed to instantiated) phrases and words be quoted or italicized?

Please see this answer of mine and note that I started with italics but some of them were edited to quotes (with a diversion through a partially-reverted edit). Which is correct? What about the rest of the italics in the answer?

  • I changed it because you also added some grammar around the phrases that I believed didn't correspond with the author's intent. I believe that the intent was to propose those phrases as they stood and that it wasn't clear from the formatting. The formatting caused you to make some grammar fixes that weren't wrong, but ended up rephrasing the answer in a way the author didn't intend to phrase it. The quotes seemed to offset the phrases more clearly than the italics to me.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Jan 7, 2015 at 21:44
  • I am the author, not the editor, and you are right that the added words by that editor changed the meaning, in particular my intent to showcase light up without a direct object.
    – ErikE
    Commented Jan 7, 2015 at 22:10
  • Sorry, I didn't realize you were the original author. Great with faces, terrible with names and colored patterns :) I thought that the italics were added by the edits I was approving/improving. You can certainly fix any "improvement" you don't want. The quotes were my preference not a standard around here AFAIK.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Jan 7, 2015 at 22:15
  • Is there a reason you commented instead of answering?
    – ErikE
    Commented Jan 8, 2015 at 0:26
  • 1
    I commented to explain the situation, but the real question (I think) is should we as a community prefer quotes or italics, and I don't have an answer for that :)
    – ColleenV
    Commented Jan 8, 2015 at 0:32

1 Answer 1


I prefer quotes for phrases because I think they are slightly more visible and keep the words of the phrase grouped. Also, the mobile site doesn't render italics on my phone's browser, but I don't think that's a consideration for a guideline that applies to everyone. For single words, I think italics are fine but I try to use quotes to be consistent.

You could say "this phrase"

isn't that much different from

You could say this phrase

so I don't feel strongly about it.

I do think however that it would be a good idea to have a style guide thread here on meta that would bring together discussions like Should backticks be used or quotation marks while formatting? and Angle brackets to indicate orthography. It looks like an attempt was made a while ago that didn't get much traction: Memorandum of Formatting

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