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Many of us probably encountered it before on a social media like Facebook or Twitter, or in the comments section of a major website. You've decided what you want to say, but you want to stress a specific word or couple of words in your message. However, the medium does not allow you to do what you normally do with the font, like put it in bold, or in italics, or underlined, or in a slightly larger font, or in a different font. The only things you can do is use printable characters you can make with your keyboard. One of the most common solutions people thing of is using letter casing, but that can quickly devolve into "why are you shouting at me?" and isn't always suited.

When in such a situation, what method can bring across the best impression of a stressed syllable/word/word group without offending people? And does this method depend on the type of stressing you want to give the word (pitch vs tone vs volume)?

  • You can use * asterisks *. – ewormuth Jul 28 '15 at 1:14
  • You can use "inverted commas", though this can imply that you mean the opposite to what you have written. – S. Mitchell Jul 28 '15 at 8:23
  • @Tave Quotation marks do not mean something is being emphasized, but that will probably change given enough time. For now, many people will take quotes to mean sarcasm. – Neil Fein Aug 6 '15 at 19:18
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Writing a word in ALL CAPS might be frowned upon because it is considered a visual equivalent of shouting, but shouting is a spoken form of emphasis, so ALL CAPS might be just what you need.

Internet tradition (dating back to list serves, etc.) has used the underbar as a signal for italics: I will _never_ eat another steak. The underbar harkens back to typing and handwriting (remember that?), when underlined text indicated what in print would be rendered in italics. Some social sites, like Google+, will automatically render _text bounded by underbars_ in italics.

Likewise, the star or asterisk ( * ) has traditionally been used to bound text that should be considered boldface.

So you might tweet:

*George R.R. Martin* is executive producer of HBO's _Game of Thrones_ because he wrote the books, but *George Martin* produced _Abbey Road_ and many other Beatle albums.

But the best way to emphasize words lies within the words themselves, but that's a topic for another day (or an exercise left for the reader).

  • "Some social sites, like Google+, will automacally render text bounded by underbars in italics." Stack Exchange also does this. – Doug Warren Aug 6 '15 at 20:17
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In Winnie-the-Pooh (or something of a similar genre) there was a Habit of capitalising important words to emphasis its importance to the narrator. e.g. After all he really was A Very Important Bear.

I think this works a lot more subtlety than all caps, which tend to jolt you out of the flow of reading.

Capitalised words can be absorbed as part of the reading process, we are accustomed to seeing important places, names etc being capitalised. Lending that to words that wouldn't normally be capitalised can make a subtle yet powerful impact.

Whereas writing in all caps breaks the reader from the flow of words, you tend to have to consciously read what is said rather than it being an automatic process.

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I think the short answer is, Put the word in all caps.

The criticism of all caps is when you write your entire text in all caps. Indicating that one WORD should be emphasized is perfectly reasonable. TRYING TO EMPHASIZE EVERYTHING YOU WRITE BY PUTTING WHOLE SENTENCES IN ALL CAPS IS USUALLY DISTRACTING AND COUNTER-PRODUCTIVE. Well, if you are writing a ten-page article and put one or two sentences that are particularly important in all caps, that could be fine and good. But where it gets annoying is when you put the whole text -- the whole post or letter or whatever -- in caps.

By the way, the same is true for excessive punctuation!!!

Sometimes we need to emphasize a word to clarify the meaning of a sentence, and that's fine. But if people don't believe what you're saying or they don't think it's true, saying it louder or writing it in bigger letters rarely helps.

  • This isn't bad enough for a down vote, but I don't think CAPS does it. It's commonly considered as shouting and that's not the same as emphasis. The connotation is completely different. – Joe Jul 29 '15 at 0:31
  • @joe Well, I disagree. Putting an entire sentence or more in caps is reasonably considered like shouting. But putting one or two words in caps to indicate emphasis is very common, especially in contexts where italics is not available. – Jay Jul 29 '15 at 5:06
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An alternative to using _underscores_ to stress a word in a case where you'd normally use italics is to wrap the content in /slashes/. If nothing else, it's less likely to cause a miscommunication of its meaning than "quoting" and less likely to cause an unintentional emotional effect on the reader than USING ALL CAPS. It may be preferable if the other content you are writing contains underscores already, like website usernames:

Jeff87, pretty_pretty_princess, and Buffalos_Rule /all/ logged out.

But if you're writing something with a lot of slashes in it anyway, maybe _underscore_ or *asterisk* would cause less confusion.

I've never been there/seen it/done *anything* like that!

I suppose if you were going to include any asterisked disclaimers* you'd have to similarly choose what characters you want to use for emphasis carefully.

For me (and understanding that this is totally subjective), slashes have a similar effect as I read to italics -- causing emphasis, but somewhat gentler than underscores (my brain makes an extra pause around the word when I see those), asterisks (which I associate with a word being bolded), or all caps (which, depending on the context and how many words are capitalized, is like a more intense bolding or outright yelling).

* such as this one

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If I want to emphasize, I cap the first letter of the emphasizes word. Italics seem a bit cheesy to me.

For example: You ate the Red biscuit?! You Ate the red biscuit?! You ate The red biscuit?!

Of course there are issues when the word would be capped for other reasons (name, start of sentence). But that's what I do.

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