Every writer wants his or her words to leap off the page. We all experience the anxiety that the reader will lose interest or will fail to grasp a particularly important point or word. And so many writers resort to four popular devices to draw the reader’s attention: quotes, italics, capitals, and bolded type. Use of these literary spices must be judicious, or else the recipe will taste like a jumble of accents and no substance. At worst they can be an irritating turnoff.
Aside from indicating direct quotations of speech, quotes should only be used to either indicate that it is the word itself that is under consideration, or to indicate the unusual or non-standard usage of a word. Here are two examples.
1. When you see the word “elephant,” you should say it out loud.
2. The gangster’s “defense” consisted of the ridiculous assertion that the bloody knife got stuck into the victim?s back by accident.
In the second sentence, you might have said, “The gangster’s so-called defense consisted…” You are indicating to the reader that the word is being used sarcastically. Don’t use quotes around a word unless you are really and truly using the word in some unusual way. Overuse of quotes around single words quickly becomes tiresome.
Italics are good way to add emphasis to any word. Italicized words are easy to read and you can use them liberally.
1. You need to differentiate between good cholesterol and bad cholesterol.
2. The aircraft hit turbulence. Really rough turbulence.
Putting ordinary words in caps for emphasis is never a good idea. It is tiresome and confusing. Take a look at this paragraph:
1. In the USA, President Ronald Reagan established the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDIO), which was later changed to the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization (BMDO). In 2002, BMDO’s name was changed to its current title, the Missile Defense Agency (MDA). The MDA is a POWERFUL deterrent to Russian or North Korean missile attack.
When you get to the word “POWERFUL,” the effect is bewildering. The use of caps should be reserved only for acronyms.
Bolded type is useful in a non-fiction document when you are introducing a word or phrase for the first time, and you want to make sure the reader sees it. It’s also used for live links to website pages. Here is an example:
1. For a non-profit organization, a successful capital campaign is the result of many constituencies working together for a common goal, including the board, staff, volunteers, donors, and community representatives. As the project grows from an idea to a proposal to reality, a campaign plan is key to success. A comprehensive campaign plan provides a framework for action and a template that is transparent and universally accepted
We’ve introduced the term “campaign plan,” which we intend to discuss in the document. Subsequent occurrences are not bolded.
A word about ellipses
Ellipses (…) should only be used when a part of the sentence or dialogue is truly missing, not simply to indicate a pause. To indicate a pause, use a dash.
1. But wait – there’s more! I want you to see – to hear – and to truly believe!
2. Everyone knows how the Gettysburg Address begins: “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth the proposition that all men are created equal….”
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