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3.8 Use bold, italics, and underlining sparingly and consistently

See 3.8 of the Checklist »

Legislation

The LENZ system controls some of our use of bold, italics, and underlining in legislation by assigning the styles to each element of legislation. For example, if you make a word a defined term, it will be bold text and if you make it a cross-heading, it will be italic text.

Everything else, including emails, letters, reports, and training material

Key messages

Less is more.

Use one or other of them, as little as possible.

Bold or italic or underlining—think of them as mutually exclusive (ie, if you’ve stressed a key word by making it bold, don’t make it italic and underline it as well).

Using bold, italic, or underlining sparingly is more effective: if everything is emphasised, nothing is emphasised.

TIP

Don't use underlining for emphasis or as a heading style for content that may be presented online. Online, underlining is reserved for links. See eg https://www.digital.govt.nz/standards-and-guidance/design-and-ux/content-design-guidance/formatting/.

Readability

A mass of bold, italic, and underlining, especially on screen, is less readable than regular text.

Where a group of words are bold, italic, or underlined, you lose the visible contrast, so people are unlikely to read them.

Compare the following examples for readability:

Example 1—Readability
tick.gif Bold typefaces, as companions to regular text weights, did not become fashionable until the mid-19th century. Although it is hard to imagine today, the original fonts of Baskerville, Caslon, Garamond, and Bodoni did not include bold weights. Bold type grew out of the Industrial Revolution and the birth of advertising. In fact, the first popular bold typefaces were display designs intended to be used at large sizes to grab the reader's attention. It was only later that bold designs were regularly added to typefaces used to set text copy.
cross.gif Bold typefaces, as companions to regular text weights, did not become fashionable until the mid-19th century. Although it is hard to imagine today, the original fonts of Baskerville, Caslon, Garamond, and Bodoni did not include bold weights. Bold type grew out of the Industrial Revolution and the birth of advertising. In fact, the first popular bold typefaces were display designs intended to be used at large sizes to grab the reader's attention. It was only later that bold designs were regularly added to typefaces used to set text copy.
cross.gif

Bold typefaces, as companions to regular text weights, did not become fashionable until the mid-19th century. Although it is hard to imagine today, the original fonts of Baskerville, Caslon, Garamond, and Bodoni did not include bold weights. Bold type grew out of the Industrial Revolution and the birth of advertising. In fact, the first popular bold typefaces were display designs intended to be used at large sizes to grab the reader's attention. It was only later that bold designs were regularly added to typefaces used to set text copy.

cross.gif Bold typefaces, as companions to regular text weights, did not become fashionable until the mid-19th century. Although it is hard to imagine today, the original fonts of Baskerville, Caslon, Garamond, and Bodoni did not include bold weights. Bold type grew out of the Industrial Revolution and the birth of advertising. In fact, the first popular bold typefaces were display designs intended to be used at large sizes to grab the reader's attention. It was only later that bold designs were regularly added to typefaces used to set text copy.
cross.gif Bold typefaces, as companions to regular text weights, did not become fashionable until the mid-19th century. Although it is hard to imagine today, the original fonts of Baskerville, Caslon, Garamond, and Bodoni did not include bold weights. Bold type grew out of the Industrial Revolution and the birth of advertising. In fact, the first popular bold typefaces were display designs intended to be used at large sizes to grab the reader's attention. It was only later that bold designs were regularly added to typefaces used to set text copy.

When to use them in documents other than legislation

Bold, italics, and underlining may be used, sparingly, and must be used consistently. 

Style  Use  Example
Italics Emphasis Lord Rafter managed to eat nine penguin biscuits.
Italics Titles: books, films, magazines, newspapers, and music collections (albums, suites, and operas)

Note
  • song titles are in quotes not italics
  • long religious works (eg, the Bible, and its individual books, eg, Genesis), episodes of television shows, and short stories are not italicised
  • abbreviations of publication names are not italicised (eg, AJHR) . 
Lord Rafter’s favourite book is Pingu and the Spotty Day.

Lord Rafter went to the cinema and saw March of the Penguins.

Lord Rafter’s favourite song on the Penguin Café Orchestra’s album Broadcasting from Home is “Another One from the Colonies”.

Lord Rafter is reading an interesting article in the Ice-fishing Times.

Italics Foreign words not considered fully part of the English language (check the Oxford English Dictionary).

Do not use italics for words in Te reo Māori or in Pacific Island languages.

Lord Rafter is considered by some at PCO to be somewhat of a flâneur.
Italics Pieces of art and sculpture Lord Rafter was saddened to discover that the Venus de Milo is missing her flippers.
Italics Citing English words in a sentence when you don’t want to put the words in quotation marks Lord Rafter is still learning when to fish and phish.
Italics Names of ships, aircraft, man-made satellites (but not brands, eg: Air New Zealand, Triumph Herald) Lord Rafter is swimming round the wreck of the Rainbow Warrior.
Italics In the names of legal cases Rafter v Crown
Italics Zoological names Lord Rafter is proud as punch to come from a noble line of Crossvallia waiparensis.
Bold Emphasis

This is the main use—to make something stand out.

Caution:  Use sparingly—readers don’t like to be told how to read.

Your text will not necessarily stand out because it is bold—it’s all about the visual contrast. A single bold word in a paragraph results in high visible contrast.

Contrary to popular belief, the Crossvallia waiparensis is not extinct, just very rare. Most of them live in two colonies in Wellington (one in Ngaio and a smaller one on The Terrace).
Bold Headings

You can use bold text in combination with different type sizes to create a hierarchy in a set of heading styles.

See also 4.6 Headings have a clear and consistent hierarchy.

Level 1: Penguins of the World

Level 2: New Zealand

Level 3: No 2 The Terrace (Wellington)

Underlining Use with care. On screen, underlined text often indicates a clickable link.

Underlining was used for all of the purposes listed above in handwritten and typewritten documents before computers provided us with italics and bold that are more readable options.

 

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