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Underlining, Bolding, and Italicizing

By Judy Vorfeld


Did you know that, for many years, authors under­lined text merely as a way to instruct type­set­ters to ital­i­cize words? Then along came desk­top pub­lish­ing (DTP), which made under­lin­ing pop­u­lar as a way of pro­vid­ing empha­sis. It’s often used that way today, but is no longer accept­able in many typo­graph­i­cal circles.

Why? Underlining inter­feres with descen­ders, those thin­gies on let­ters that drop below the line: p, q, j, etc. Underlining sub­tly sab­o­tages the reader’s abil­ity to read with ease. One good way to
pro­vide empha­sis: use bold. Carefully.

Web design fol­lowed DTP, and here again, the rules changed. Or are chang­ing. In addi­tion to inter­fer­ing with descen­ders, there’s another prob­lem. Most hyper­links on Web sites are under­lined, and peo­ple expect to be able to click away on under­lined text. Why not avoid under­lin­ing text you want empha­sized, and go for the bold. Or color. And if you use color, make sure you use the hex code rather than the name of the color. Older browsers some­times insist on the hex code and if it’s not there, they will default to black.

QUICK TIP: Select text you want ital­i­cized, then use key­stroke combo Ctrl+I.


Bolding on paper can be over­done, but when used cau­tiously, it is worth­while. You’re more likely to bold head­ings and sub-headings than parts of a sen­tence. QUICK TIP: Select text you want bolded, then use key­stroke combo Ctrl+B. On to the Web…

Experts say that peo­ple scan text on the Web more than when read­ing text printed on paper. Thoughtful use of bold­ing in text is good. Where too much bold­ing might look inap­pro­pri­ate in a busi­ness let­ter, it might be fine on the Web. Again, use your judge­ment. Make it easy for the reader to catch your impor­tant points, though, but don’t sat­u­rate your page with it. Some peo­ple bold every­thing on a page. This is some­what sim­i­lar to typ­ing in all caps, which is called “shout­ing.” Try giv­ing a pleas­ing rhythm to the voice and look of your text.


Italicizing works beau­ti­fully on paper with ink_jet and laser printer res­o­lu­tions at 300 dpi or
higher. QUICK TIP: Select text you want ital­i­cized, then use key­stroke combo Ctrl+I.

Don’t ital­i­cize on the Web if you can help it. Most ital­i­ciz­ing is dif­fi­cult to read. Your text is there only to help vis­i­tors inter­act with you. Everything you cre­ate, on paper and on the Web, should be con­sid­ered a pre­sen­ta­tion. Create with the end user in mind.



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