When the terms for key concepts first appear in your work, you may choose to distinguish them from the rest of the text to indicate their importance, whether by placing them in quotation marks or italicizing them. If a key concept is your own coinage, it’s best placed in quotation marks. If the key concept isn’t your own, you could use either quotation marks or italics. After the first mention of the concept, it is generally OK to forgo special emphasis for the term and to set it in plain, roman font without quotation marks.

The following examples provide options for presenting key concepts:

A key concept coined by the author

Shakespeare’s sonnets often use a literary device that I call “maladaptive rhetoric.”

A key concept not coined by the author

Some early-twentieth-century intellectuals adhered to the theory known as “economic determinism.”¬†

or

Some early-twentieth-century intellectuals adhered to the theory known as economic determinism.

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Joseph Wallace

Joseph Wallace copyedits articles for PMLA and writes posts for the Style Center. He received a PhD in English literature from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Before coming to the Modern Language Association, he edited articles for Studies in Philology and taught courses on writing and early modern literature.