Posted by: Jack Henry | December 6, 2018

Editor’s Corner: Is It Ever Necessary to Underline Text?

When I was in elementary school, I was taught to underline book titles regardless of whether I was typing or writing by hand. Now, I use the Chicago Manual of Style, which says to italicize book titles.

I was curious whether the Chicago Manual of Style ever calls for underlining text, so I did a search. The closest it comes is, “Occasionally, boldface or underscore (also called underlining) is used for emphasis. In formal prose, especially in print, italics are usually more appropriate.”

In another section, it says, “Underlined words in a quoted manuscript may be printed as italics, unless the underlining itself is considered integral to the source or otherwise worthy of reproducing” (for example, when transcribing handwritten letters).

Underlining hasn’t gone the way of cursive writing just yet, however. In the digital world, underlining is the de facto standard for indicating that a word or phrase is a hyperlink. Using italics for emphasis instead of underlining avoids confusing sentences such as, “I insist that you visit the Editor’s Corner blog.”

Additionally, as anyone who’s submitted a document to Symitar® Editing can attest, when you use tracked changes in Microsoft® Word, underlining indicates an insertion (like this).

The bottom line is, there are still various uses for underlining, but they do not include adding emphasis to a word or phrase or citing books or periodicals. In those cases, use italics instead.

About Editor’s Corner

Editor’s Corner keeps your communication skills sharp by providing information on grammar, punctuation, JHA style, and all things English. As editors, we spend our days reading, researching, and revising other people’s writing. We love to spend a few extra minutes to share what we learn with you and keep it fun while we’re doing it.

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