A co-work­er asked me to make some changes to a sec­tion of the web­site today. Part of the changes includ­ed some para­graphs with sen­tences that were in bold and ital­ics. Why do peo­ple do this? Why is it when some­one wants to empha­size some­thing, they over-empha­size it?

If you want to empha­size some­thing, start by ital­i­ciz­ing it.

Sup­pose we have the fol­low­ing copy para­graph:

Kim has to go to Van­cou­ver at the end of June for some train­ing in Cold­Fu­sion. He will be gone five days, which will be the longest he has ever been away from the rest of the fam­i­ly.

Now sup­pose we want to empha­sis to the read­er how this trip will be the longest time Kim would be away from his fam­i­ly. In this case, we’d for­mat it as fol­lows:

Kim has to go to Van­cou­ver at the end of June for some train­ing in Cold­Fu­sion. He will be gone five days, which will be the longest he has ever been away from the rest of the fam­i­ly.

This tells the user what part of the sen­tence that’s not only the most impor­tant to the writer but also the part the writer wants to empha­size to the read­er.

Con­sid­er the fol­low­ing:

Kim has to go to Van­cou­ver at the end of June for some train­ing in Cold­Fu­sion. He will be gone five days, which will be the longest he has ever been away from the rest of the fam­i­ly.

Notice the same word is ital­i­cized as before; it’s still impor­tant. We also we have some words in bold. These aren’t just any ran­dom words, how­ev­er; they have a rela­tion­ship to the ital­i­cized word. They qual­i­fy just how long “longest” is. In oth­er words, despite the dif­fer­ent lev­els of empha­sis, the empha­sis is still log­i­cal.

Watch what hap­pens when we present empha­sis as my co-work­er asked me to do.

Kim has to go to Van­cou­ver at the end of June for some train­ing in Cold­Fu­sion. He will be gone five days, which will be the longest he has ever been away from the rest of the fam­i­ly.

The log­ic of the empha­sis is com­plete­ly lost and the whole point of using empha­sis is mut­ed. There’s no indi­ca­tion whether the writer is empha­siz­ing being away from his fam­i­ly, the length he’ll be away, or the act of being away.

When using empha­sis, please make sure that it’s log­i­cal and that it makes sense. Remem­ber, using too much empha­sis will have the oppo­site effect.

About Kim Siever

I am a copy­writer and copy­ed­i­tor. I blog on writ­ing tips most­ly, but I some­times throw in my thoughts about run­ning a small busi­ness.

Fol­low me on Twit­ter at @hotpepper.

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