A few years ago, I wrote an article about the overuse of bold and italics when emphasizing something. In summary, when using too much bold or italics, the logic of the emphasis is completely lost and the whole point of using emphasis is muted.

This weekend, someone asked me on Twitter in relation to this article when is it more effective to use underlining and bold for emphasis. Below are my suggestions for using underline, italics, and bold for emphasis:

1. Underline

I highly suggest avoiding underlining as emphasis if at all possible. The use of underlining to indicate links on websites has expropriated this formatting style. This has become so ingrained that users assume any underlined text is automatically a link.

Never use underlining for emphasis online. Even offline (in print), I’d suggest replacing it with italics.

2. Italics

Italics is the younger sibling or the sidekick of bold. It gets the job done, but not nearly as aggressively. If you have to emphasize something, turn to italics first. See if it does the job well.

3. Bold

Reserve bold usage for the most emphatic points. Use it sparingly, so it can be effective.

Remember, just because you think something is super important doesn’t mean the reader will. Try to be objective when choosing emphasis. Don’t just automatically dive for bold each time you want to emphasize something.

What do you think about creating emphasis in your writing? Leave your thoughts below.

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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