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