Instinctively I find underlining for emphasis distracting and much prefer bold or italic. From my research it seems underlining is a carryover from typewriters that were incapable of italicizing or bolding.

I'm currently in a situation creating written content with others who love underlining as a point of emphasis and see nothing wrong with it. They sometimes include italic and bold in the same paragraph.

Should I try and break the teams underlining-for-emphasis habits or change my perspective on it's appropriateness?


No, no, no, hell no, frak no, can I get a no from the peanut gallery? oh, and NO.

We are not typing on typewriters any more. We are using computers. Word processors, HTML, CSS. Underlining means a hyperlink. Period. If you want to emphasize something, use bold, italics, indents, all caps, or any combination thereof.

The only exception is certain legalese, if the lawyers insist on underlining for some archaic reason which gives formatting weight in court. Still annoying, but there's no arguing with Legal.

If you are not dealing with lawyers, then change the underlines to italics as a matter of course. If the writers object, tell them, "But in typesetting, when something is underlined in the manuscript, that's what it means. It's telling the typesetter 'italicize this.'" Brook no arguments.

(Sorry. I am a writer, editor, and typesetter, and seeing underlined non-hyperlinked copy makes my blood pressure rise.)

  • 2
    Agreed, I've been formatting articles as eBooks and underline is hyperlink in ePublishing. Great answer Lauren. Dec 23 '11 at 16:06
  • 1
    Indeed. Also, if you ever need to back this up, see CMOS 16 - 2.14, 2.94. There's also some stuff in their Q&A about this. Dec 24 '11 at 21:58
  • Another notable exception is the whip, a weekly schedule of debates sent to British MPs by their party. "Your attendance is absolutely essential" is written next to some and underlined one, two or three times to indicate actually how important it is to turn up and vote.
    – Hugo
    Dec 26 '11 at 15:03

I think underlining for emphasizing is a little bit old-fashioned. But if you write for an audience which is used to it, why not?

If you want to publish your writing online, I would advice against underlining. On the internet underlined text is associated with a link. If you do not really have a good reason to break this convention (and emphasizing isn't one, if you ask me), then do not do it.

Mixing different styles (bold, italic, underlining) is confusing at best for the reader. Is the italic section less important than the bold? Does underlining strengthen more than bold? Is the not emphasized text necessary at all?

The last sentence isn't a joke. I've seen whole paragraphs underlined in some writings, wondering why they have written the non-underlined at all. If they had skipped these, they could have skipped the underlining also.

  • 2
    +1. Regardless of what style OP's group ends up with, they need to agree on one thing that means emphasis unless they really truly mean they have levels of emphasis, which I suspect they don't. Inconsistency will confuse the reader. And if they think what they're writing will ever show up online, underlining is bad and italic is probably best (that's what HTML em usually does). Dec 23 '11 at 16:07

As an answer to your original question, yes it is still appropriate, especially in certain business settings. As to how you should respond to it or handle it, that depends on your situation.

First, ask yourself why your colleagues prefer underlining. Is it because they are older and have done it this way for a considerable amount of time? Is it a preferred standard in your current environment (work, school, etc.)?

Second, ask yourself how important it is to persuade them to change. If there isn't any underlying reason to do it this way, then you might be able to suggest an alternative. Check to see if there are any documented guidelines that might support either method. If so, then use them to help you decide.

Personally, I find bold font to sometimes be harsh, especially in a business setting. At my workplace, bold is usually interpreted as a sign of anger or frustration and is used very sparingly. Italics tend to be the preferred choice here. (I rarely see underlining used as a point of emphasis.)

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.