When writing a letter, or other form of written work, what is the appropriate way to put emphasis on a word or phrase?

When would one use bold?

When would one use italics?

When would one use an underline?

Do they all mean the same, and their usage is simply a matter of preference?


I would like to know the definition for each of the above, and why you would use one over the other, specifically in writing a letter or other such document.

For example:

This question is not a duplicate.

This question is not a duplicate.

This question is not a duplicate. (I can't use the HTML tag for underline in HTML 5...)

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  • @Rathony, definitely related, but I looked over all of those previously and they do not refer to the same situation. – CaptJak Jan 10 '16 at 16:06
  • I am afraid the first answer to the first linked question could be the answer to your question. – user140086 Jan 10 '16 at 16:13
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    Your question received one close-vote. I will leave this issue for other users to decide. Anyway, many punctuation-related questions have been closed either as duplicate or as primarily-opinion-based. Good luck. – user140086 Jan 10 '16 at 16:21
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    Understand that many of the long-standing "rules" were originally developed for typewritten text. With a typewriter you had no real option for italics, and bold was kind of iffy, so underlining was used extensively. In general, the techniques used are highly dependent on the capabilities of the medium, plus how different strategies appear in that medium. What looks good in print may not look good on-screen, and vice-versa. – Hot Licks Jan 10 '16 at 19:15

When writing a letter, as a matter of style and etiquette, it is rarely necessary (or appropriate) to resort to the use of bold, italics or underlining. One should choose words and phrases carefully to clearly communicate your meaning instead of resorting to typographical emphasis. This is, of course, just my opinion. However, the use of bold and underlining both suggest "shouting" at your reader, while italics are more subtle. Use of any of the three may suggest that you have not put enough time into writing well in the first place.

EDIT: In response to the OP's request for an example of use for each, I've pasted in the following wholly fictional fund-raising letter:

enter image description here

  • Thank you. Could you provide examples of different uses of each? – CaptJak Jan 10 '16 at 16:36
  • @CaptJak- Yes. Please see my edits above, for which I've created a fictional fundraising letter to show how bold, italics and underlining are used to emphasize different messages within the letter. This is fairly common usage in this specific type of letter. – Mark Hubbard Jan 10 '16 at 18:46
  • Italics are not just used for emphasis. If you mention the title of a work, or the name of a ship, it is also common to use italics; I fail to see how this would be inappropriate in any way. – herisson Jan 10 '16 at 18:48
  • @sumelic- Of course, I agree. Geez, give me a little credit, please! :-) – Mark Hubbard Jan 10 '16 at 18:50
  • Excellent example. Please accept my donation of +1. – CaptJak Jan 10 '16 at 19:19

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