With examples from Stargate SG-1.
Everybody seems to use one of three options for emphasizing text in their stories: italics, bold, or underlining. But which is the best way to do it?
I looked around the internet for a good, definitive guide to formatting for emphasis, and what I ended up finding was a lot of universities and publishers giving guidelines for their particular sites. While this is great if you're in a university program or thinking of publishing, each university and publishing house can have their own guidelines on emphasis formatting. Most fall into the same general category, but some publishers, in particular, can be really picky and "out there" with their requirements.
I found four things that were blatantly clear in all of the research I did.
- Foreign words are always emphasized with italics.
- Bold is usually reserved for titles and section headers, rather than emphasis text.
- ALL CAPS is actually pretty universally frowned upon by universities and publishers.
- Use emphasis formatting sparingly.
So let's just focus on what some of the major style guides available say about emphasis formatting and go from there.
Custom-Essays.org has a great section that gives the emphasis formatting for the four main style guides in use for academic writing, though it appears to be out of date, particularly with regard to MLA style. And while I know that campylobacter asked about fanfiction, I've found that a lot of writers will tend to follow one of these four guides for their writing styles.
- Chicago style stresses using italics for emphasis formatting.
"There's nothing wrong with me," Jack said, batting at Dr. Fraiser's hand in an attempt to stop her from pulling out the needles.
- While older versions of MLA style stress underlining for emphasis formatting, the 7th edition stresses italics.
OLD EDITIONS: "When you have your medical license, Colonel O'Neill," she replied, "you can decide that."
CURRENT EDITION: "When you have your medical license, Colonel O'Neill," she replied, "you can decide that."
- AMA style also stresses using italics for emphasis formatting.
"Is this gonna take long?" Daniel asked with a sigh. "Because I've got a ton of hieroglyphs to process and translate."
- APA style also stresses using italics for emphasis formatting.
"Daniel! Don't rile up the Napoleonic powermonger any more than you have to!" Jack said, making the "kill it" motion.
The biggest division for emphasis formatting seems to boil down to italics versus underlining. This goes back to the days of typewriters, monospace fonts, and sending a hard copy of your manuscript to a publisher. Yes, back in the "olden days" when there were people who manually did the typesetting for books. It was common practice to underline your emphasis words, which would then be changed to italics by the typesetters. The reason behind this is that typewriters didn't have an option for italics. Even now, in the modern age of multiple fonts and options, there's a division of whether to underline or italicize for emphasis. This mostly is due to some publishers still falling back on the old-fashioned ways of "This is how we've always done it" with underlining.
In the end, it really boils down to consistency. While it appears that most publishers and universities are leaning toward using italics for emphasis formatting, some publishers (and anyone still using older versions of MLA Style) prefer the older standard of underlining emphasis text. There is also the issue of using underlining on the web for hyperlinks, which can cause confusion if you include hyperlinks in your fanfiction. Again, using bold for emphasis isn't recommended. If you prefer underlining, use that in your fanfiction. If you prefer using italics, use that in your fanfiction. Just know that if you do switch over to writing something for publication, you'll potentially have to replace all of that formatting with whatever the publisher prefers.
- Essay Format Outline @ Custom-Essays.org
- Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. @ Bartleby.com
- Format Your Novel for Submission
- Manuscript Formatting: Beyond 101
- Manuscript Format Basics
- How to Add Emphasis to Your Writing
- Before You Hit Save
- How to Write Fan Fiction
Caveat Emptor to this entry: While there is some good information in this article, there are also a lot of spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors within the body of the document.