Typesetting Tip #3: Emphasis

There are several basic ways to create emphasis on a page using typography. Listed below are some of them, and some basic rules that may help you decide when you should use each one.

  1. Type size
  2. Bold face type (and other type weights)
  3. Italic typeface
  4. Color
  5. Highlighting
  7. Underline

Basic Rules

Type size is generally used to differentiate headlines and subheadlines. Setting the text on your page with a variety of meaningful headlines and subheadlines allows the page to be scanned quickly, helping users find the information that the are looking for. Pull quotes and even individual lines of text can be set at a larger type size to create emphasis.

Bold face type adds some graphic diversity to a page and is often used in headlines and sub-headlines. It can add visual punctuation to an element of text, where a simple change in size does not. Bold type can be used within a paragraph or sentence, but in this usage, it can be obtrusive and disrupt the normal flow of reading. For this reason bold can be used to emphasis important text in a paragraph that might not be read otherwise (such might be the case for safety or security warnings).

Italic text is the standard for creating emphasis withing running text. It allows a word, letter, or sentence to be emphasized without disrupting the normal flow of reading.

Color can be used for emphasis, but should be used cautiously. Under different circumstances color may not have the intended effect.

Popularized by 37Signals, highlighting is one way to add emphasis to a word or sentence. Even more than bold text, highlighting disrupts the normal flow of text on the page and can cause the content of your page to be read out of context.

Setting text in ALL CAPS is a convention left over from typewriter days where there were no other typographic options for setting text. Because readability is comprimised in ALL CAPS text, it should generally be avoided as a method for creating emphasis.

Underlined text adds emphasis to an element, but will also create confusion with hyperlinked text. Different styles of underlining that don’t appear the same as hyperlinks can be used to acheive an effect of emphasis.

(see also Typesetting Tip #1 and #2)

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posted by John Dilworth on Monday, Oct 23, 2006
tagged with typography