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Don't Use Italics

Let your readers live their life

Megan Preston Meyer
Megan Preston Meyer

We're all different.

When we write, we tend to assume that everyone thinks the way we think. (Heck, even when we don’t write, we tend to assume everyone thinks the way we think.)

But they don’t. They are different. They think differently. Let them.

When you write something, except for under very specific circumstances, you’re giving your audience the bones of the argument – but they breathe life into it.

You provide the scaffolding, but they hang plastic sheeting and construction firm signs on it, and add ladders from one floor to another, and sometimes use it to apply stucco and sometimes use it to run across dramatically to escape a pursuing bad guy (or good guy – again, don’t judge).

The point is – you write words, and put them on a page, but you don’t control how they sound to a reader.

So don’t use italics. Give your readers the  freedom to read in their own voice.

Case in point: You're reading this right now, which means there's a tiny voice in your head that's emphasizing words as you go, which means your sentence probably doesn't sound like mine.

         which means your sentence probably doesn't sound like mine
         which means your sentence probably doesn't sound like mine
         which means your sentence probably doesn't sound like mine

That's good. That means the sentence sounds like you want it to sound.

This is important, especially when you're trying to persuade. Your reader will always be able to talk themselves into something more effectively than you can talk them into it.

Again: Let them.

This doesn't mean you can't ever use formatting. There are times and places where it is very appropriate:

  • Italics are useful for titles, quotations, and dialogue
  • Bold is useful for headings and terms to be defined
  • *star enclosures* are useful if you're limited to plaintext and/or want to be ironic
  • U̲n̲d̲e̲r̲l̲i̲n̲i̲n̲g is useful for... actually, not much. You can probably do without underlining


Formatting provides visual interest; it makes your message easier to scan. It's not, however, meant to dictate how your message is understood.

C.S. Lewis said it best:

A talker ought to use variations of voice for emphasis because his medium naturally lends itself to that method: but a writer ought not to use italics for the same purpose.

But, why, Clive?

He has his own, different means of bringing out the key words and ought to use them.

Got it.

Format sparingly and emphasize cleverly so that your readers hear your words in their own voice.

Communication Tips