Every writer needs to have a good understanding of key components of writing. Do you know the rules of referencing and quoting?

My introduction to the rules of referencing was the day my year 12 literature teacher handed out in class a sheet which opened with this sobering thought:

Unfortunately, you will probably never have an original idea in your life. Therefore it is important to know the formal rules for quoting other people’s work.

Although I was shocked and humbled by the idea that I would never have an original thought in my life, if my teacher’s hypothesis is correct then it must also be unoriginal. Can it be that there is a finite number of ideas to be had, which we must all share and borrow from one another?

Thankfully, the rules of referencing are both finite and logical. They are quick and easy to learn, which gives a writer no excuse not to memorise them and apply them consistently.

The title of a short work such as a song, essay, book chapter, short story, article or poem is presented in ‘quotation marks’ (and is not italicised).

The name of a large or full-length work such as a book, periodical, play, film, television program, painting or collection of work (such as an album of songs or an anthology of writing) is presented in italics. The titles of long poems such as The Man from Snowy River are also italicised. In a handwritten document, underline the title instead of italicising it (italicising by hand is more difficult than underlining).

Finally, do not forget to reverse the italics rule (change from italics to roman type) if the rest of the text is already in italics. Whether you are borrowing from a work or simply referring to it, the point is to differentiate the title of that other work from the text you have written. To give an example from The Australian Writer:

Patricia Young’s book In the Shadow of the Golden Pagoda can be purchased online from www.catbirdmedia.com.au.

This reversal rule mirrors the rule for quotations within quotations, where you switch from single to double quotation marks to draw attention to a change in the origin of the quoted text.

So, those are the official rules. I noticed a different convention during my publishing internships: in emails between staff members, book titles were CAPITALISED rather than italicised. This seemed to be for practical reasons (capitals stand out more) as well as a result of the form of communication (it can be cumbersome italicising text in the body of an email, and in the subject line of an email it is impossible). Emails aside, applying the simple rules of referencing in your work will add to the professionalism of your presentation.


Dear Julia,

I use single quotation marks, in accordance with the Australian Government’s Style Manual for Authors, Editors and Printers, but two years ago I sent my short story to an American online competition run by ‘Winning Writers’. I received from them an email with a request to change the quotation marks for dialogue from single to double. I did as they asked and I was lucky to win a Highly Commended award for my story.

Warm regards,



Dear Barbara,

Congratulations on your award!

Double quotation marks are the norm in North America. Both double and single quotation marks are used in Australia and the United Kingdom but the official Australian standard is single quotes. Competition rules often set formatting standards (font, text size, spacing, and so on) but I’ve never heard of competition organisers in Australia asking for an entry to be resubmitted because of the type of quotation marks used. Many media organisations have house style manuals and you can request a copy so that you know your submissions conform.

While we’re on the topic of quotation marks, another thing to watch out for is inadvertently mixing ‘straight’ quotation marks and ‘curly’ quotation marks. If you are importing text directly from html content (such as a website or the body of an email), you may end up with ‘straight’ quote marks. The golden rule with formatting is, of course, consistency. Although many readers may not be bothered if your work contains both types of quote marks, if you are presenting a manuscript for publication it will not escape the notice of perceptive readers, including editors.

If you notice inconsistencies or recurring errors in a document, the fastest way to fix them is the find-and-replace function in Microsoft Word. The other day I was talking to a friend about a manuscript that he was polishing to submit to a publisher.

He shook his head sadly and said, ‘Unfortunately, I wrote this manuscript back when I thought that “double spacing” meant hitting the space bar twice after every word. It’s taking me ages to go through and fix it.’

I said, ‘Why don’t you just use find and replace? Use the search function to find every place you typed two spaces then type a single space in the “replace with” section and click “replace all”. It only takes a few seconds.’

His jaw dropped. ‘I wish I’d known that three weeks ago!’

Yours sincerely,

Julia the Pedant


The original version of this article was published as ‘Frustrations of an English Pedant’ in The Australian Writer issue 377 (September–December 2012).

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