Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Editorial Tip of the Week: Overemphasis

From the Editors!

Last week we introduced you to our “friend” the scare quote. This week, let us introduce you to our “ENEMY”: overemphasis.

And before you laugh too hard—thinking that no one could ever really use underlining, all caps, bolding, scare quotes, font change, and italics all together—let us bear witness that we have seen it. And it’s not pretty.

So what can you use to emphasize something important?

1. Underlining: No. Never. Not for any reason we can possibly imagine. Underlining is so hideous, it's not even one of the options on the formatting palette of this blog. If you use underlining in a submission, you’d better include a stunningly persuasive defense for it in your cover letter if you expect to see those unattractive lines in the final printed version.
2. ALL CAPS: As Chicago 7.50 tells us, “Capitalizing an entire word or phrase for emphasis is rarely appropriate. If capitals are wanted—in dialogue or in representing newspaper headlines, for example—small caps rather than full capitals look more graceful.” The reason is simply that text in all caps is difficult to read and usually pretty ugly to look at.
3. Bolding: Once again, this is rarely if ever an option.
4. “Scare Quotes”: Well, you know our stance on those.
5. Font: Please don’t ever change the font, font size, or font color in the middle of a paragraph. Please.
6. Italics: Ah, finally, a method of emphasis that’s allowed! But a word of warning from Chicago 7.49: “Good writers use italics for emphasis only as an occasional adjunct to efficient sentence structure. Overused, italics quickly lose their force. Seldom should as much as a sentence be italicized for emphasis, and never a whole passage.”

Editorial consensus: To emphasize something, do it with your writing style if possible and with occasional italics if necessary.


Lee Ann Setzer said...

Huh. I always learned that, in a manuscript, you were supposed to use underlining to indicate italics, for obscure typographical reasons that no one ever explained. Any comment on that?

The Editors said...

Unfortunately for authors, editors, and designers, nothing stays the same for long. We're up to the 15th edition of Chicago now; change is the only constant. I know underlining used to be acceptable for several different uses, but no more. That's one of the great things about this blog: everyone gets to keep each other current on the writing and publishing styles that are being used right now.

Terri Ferran said...

This was helpful and enlightening. Thanks.