Misc.: Emphasizing words

October 11, 2007: Issue 208

Avoid using italics for emphasis. Italic type already has enough jobs to do: setting off titles, foreign words, unvoiced thoughts, words used as such. Italicizing words that don’t fit those categories is as likely to confuse the issue as to clarify it.

All-capital type isn’t a great option, either. It’s difficult to read and, in the age of e-mail, widely construed as yelling.

When you want to stress certain words, look for ways to do it with punctuation or sentence structure. Emphasis naturally falls near the beginning and end of a sentence or after strong punctuation marks such as colons and dashes.

avoid:
Remember, you have to live with your decision.
Remember, YOU have to live with your decision.

options:
Remember who has to live with your decision—you do.
Remember: You have to live with your decision.
You have to live with your decision, remember.

Good grammarians sometimes come out ahead: While “The Way I Are” by Timbaland was at No. 15 on the iTunes Top 100 chart earlier this week, “The Way I Am” by Ingrid Michaelson was 11 spots above it.

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