Web copywriting – Italics or UPPER CASE for emphasis?

September 13, 2013 •
Image for capitals vs italics for emphasis in web copywriting

A quick one this morning. When you’re writing web copy, do you use italics or upper case for emphasis? Or nothing?

For example, here’s something I’m in the middle of writing:

“Unless you spend every waking moment on the lookout for the perfect block, finding it can be a frustrating task.

Fortunately, you don’t have to do it alone. Our property valuers DO spend every waking moment on the lookout for perfect blocks. (Well, nearly every waking moment.) Plus we have established relationships with WA’s leading land developers, so half the time, the perfect block comes looking for US!”

Personally, I prefer upper case, because italics are harder to read online (and probably also because I spend way too much time on social media). But I worry people will think my client’s SHOUTING at them! Plus there’s an acronym in there, which has to be in upper case, and it’s possible some readers may think US means America!

So what’s the solution? What would you do? I’m still on draft 1, so definitely open to suggestions. Please comment below.

 

Feel free to comment...
comment avatar
Angus wrote on September 13th, 2013

I use boldface! I know you're talking about how you present copy to clients, but the semantic markup geek in me would avoid using all caps in anything that has to be cut and pasted into a website, because it doesn't convey enough information (i.e. it doesn't distinguish between a "real" capital at the start of a proper noun, and a capital that's purely for emphasis). If I really wanted to use all caps for emphasis on the website, I'd use the "em" or "strong" tag and then use CSS to transform it in the browser.

Reply
comment avatar
Glenn Murray wrote on September 13th, 2013

Interesting. Problem I have with that, though, is that I like to use bold for the key MEANING elements, not the key WRITING elements. I want readers to scan the page and understand the meaning, not scan it and exclaim over the wordsmithing. (I'm not suggesting you want that either, btw.)

Reply
comment avatar
Lisa O wrote on September 13th, 2013

Agreed re italics. I don't use bold as it looks like a link, so you've got a potential user experience issue there. I use caps for occasional emphasis, but never for 'us' for the reason you've identified in your post.

Reply
comment avatar
Glenn Murray wrote on September 14th, 2013

Hi Lisa, and thanks for your comment. I posted this question on G+ & FB too, and getting all sorts of answers. It seems there's no universal convention. Maybe now's the time to create one! :-)

Reply
comment avatar
Erin wrote on September 14th, 2013

I've faced this dilemma many times -- italics, caps or bold. So I've adopted a fourth option, which works for my website and on social media: Asterixes on either side of the emphasised word. "Our property valuers *do* spend ..." "... the perfect block comes looking for *us*!" It might get a bit clunky close to quote marks, but at least the exclamation mark breaks it up. I suspect, stylistically-speaking, it's not a good fit for every brand. But I don't mind having a few "stars" on my webpage ... Thanks for this post. I've been contemplating this question for a while and haven't fully committed to one yet. I think I've just answered my own question!

Reply
comment avatar
Glenn Murray wrote on September 15th, 2013

Hi Erin. Hmmm. Yeah, I think that might work for some audiences. I'll keep it up my sleeve. I suspect non-social media audiences might find it a bit confusing though. I'm getting the feeling there's no easy answer here. :-(

Reply
comment avatar
Merryl Rosenthal wrote on October 6th, 2013

Italic on screen is fine, as long as it isn't used more than once or twice in any given piece of content. Too many italicized words and you risk sounding like a Valley Girl. Caps, even for a short word, do look like shouting on screen. THEY JUST WON'T DO. ;-)

Reply
comment avatar
Glenn Murray wrote on October 7th, 2013

Hi Merryl. Yep, I've been using italics since writing this post. I haven't really paid much attention to how many I've used though. I figure if the italics, alone, are enough to make me sound like a Valley Girl, I'm doing something very wrong in the rest of my copy!

Reply
comment avatar
Writing web copy – Italics or UPPER CASE for emphasis? | AWD CopywritingBlog wrote on October 22nd, 2013

[…] Writing web copy – Italics or UPPER CASE for emphasis? […]

Reply
comment avatar
Gregory Morley wrote on January 19th, 2014

In copywriting for radio, two practices used are underlining, or caps. The problem with caps, however is that it can be confused with instructions to the announcer/voice. Italics are avoided.

Reply
comment avatar
Glenn Murray wrote on January 19th, 2014

Thanks Gregory. Yeah, I like underlining for emphasis, and I sometimes do it for offline copy, but for online it doesn't work, for obvious reasons.

Reply
comment avatar
Jacky wrote on February 25th, 2014

Great post Glenn. I think a solution may lie in typeface. Emphasis can be conveyed 2 ways - either by using a different but complementing font or through the use of small caps. The small caps solution may resolve the issue of distinguishing between "us" and "US".

Reply
comment avatar
Glenn Murray wrote on February 25th, 2014

Interesting suggestions. Have you seen any examples of this online?

Reply
comment avatar
John wrote on November 25th, 2017

Nice post. I tried to find split test results to put the question to bed but NO ONE seems to have done one. So I'm going to. I'll let you know how it goes

Reply
comment avatar
Glenn Murray wrote on November 26th, 2017

That would be great, thank you. I'd be very interested to see the results. :-)

Reply
Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.