Is it OK to italicize a word for emphasis in my paper?

Note: This post relates to content in the eighth edition of the MLA Handbook. For up-to-date guidance, see the ninth edition of the MLA Handbook.

The MLA style discourages the use of italics in academic prose to emphasize or point, because they are unnecessary—most often, the unadorned words do the job without typographic assistance. And if they don’t, then rewording is often the best solution. This policy is a matter of stylistic convention, not grammar.  

Reserve italics for emphasis for those few occasions when misreading is likely to result without them or when you simply feel that emphasis is the most effective means of getting your idea across.

Advice: You should always give extra consideration to how a sentence reads without the italics you were thinking of adding, much like a computer prompt that asks, before you hit Enter, “Are you sure?” If you’re sure—and only if you’re sure there’s no better solution—go ahead and italicize the word.