• 3-minute read
  • 2nd April 2018

Formatting for Emphasis

In this post, we’ll be looking at four ways to format emphasis in Microsoft Word: italics, bold, underlining, and all-caps. We’ll also look at why you shouldn’t use quote marks for emphasis.

1. Italics

In formal writing, italics are the best way to emphasize text. This includes most business writing and academic work. For example, you might find italics used in a textbook like this:

That Dickens, always popularizing literary techniques.

Here, italicizing “popularize” highlights the distinction between inventing something and making it popular. Italics can also be used to emphasize key parts of a quotation. If you do this, you also need to show that you’ve changed the formatting in the quoted text:

This may not be a reliable interpretation…

The quote above uses APA rules for adding emphasis, but make sure to check your style guide for how to do this if you’re using a different referencing system.

2. Bold

While bold fonts are mostly used for headings and subheadings in formal documents, they are used for emphasis online and in informal writing. This approach to emphasis is very visually striking:

Bold formatting.

Here, the words “strobe lighting” have been highlighted so they will stand out even for someone who is skim reading the document.

3. Underlining

In the days of typewriters, which didn’t have bold or italic fonts, underlining was the standard way to emphasize text. Now that we have computers, which offer a range of formatting options, this is less common.

However, you can still use underlining for emphasis if you want, especially in less formal writing. It can also be useful if you need to emphasize one or two words within a highlighted passage. For example:

Find this useful?

Subscribe to our newsletter and get writing tips from our editors straight to your inbox.

Underlining in action.

In this case, underlining has been used to make “flying monkeys” stand out from the other bold text.


You can also emphasize something by capitalizing it, though this can make it SEEM LIKE YOU’RE SHOUTING. This type of emphasis is therefore best saved for when you want something to look loud.

Think of all-caps as a textual loudhailer.

However, all-caps should not generally be used in formal or academic writing.

A Warning About Quotation Marks

One common mistake is using quote marks to emphasize a word. For example, you might see a sign outside a shop that says this:

Possibly sarcastic?

The idea here is to stress the word “bargain.” But this isn’t correct. And since quote marks can be used to indicate irony (i.e., scare quotes), it could even seem sarcastic! This sign could therefore suggest that the products are overpriced, which is the complete opposite of the intended message.

As such, you should avoid using quote marks for emphasis to ensure clarity in your written work.

Comments (0)

Got content that needs a quick turnaround?

Let us polish your work.

Explore our editorial business services.

More Writing Tips?
Trusted by thousands of leading
institutions and businesses

Make sure your writing is the best it can be with our expert English proofreading and editing.