underliningAbsolutely not

In a print­ed doc­u­ment, don’t un­der­line. Ever. It’s ugly and it makes text hard­er to read. See for yourself—

Un­der­lin­ing is an­oth­er drea­ry type­writer habit. Type­writ­ers had no bold or ital­ic styling. So the only way to em­pha­size text was to back up the car­riage and type un­der­scores be­neath the text. It was a workaround for short­com­ings in type­writer technology.

Un­der­lin­ing is an­oth­er drea­ry type­writer habit. Type­writ­ers had no bold or ital­ic styling. So the only way to em­pha­size text was to back up the car­riage and type un­der­scores be­neath the text. It was a workaround for short­com­ings in type­writer technology.

Nei­ther your word proces­sor nor your web brows­er suf­fers from these short­com­ings. If you feel the urge to un­der­line, use bold or ital­ic in­stead. In spe­cial sit­u­a­tions, like head­ings, you can also con­sid­er us­ing all caps, small caps, or a change in point size.

Not con­vinced? I in­vite you to find a book, news­pa­per, or mag­a­zine that un­der­lines text. It’s a look most­ly as­so­ci­at­ed with su­per­mar­ket tabloids. If that’s the im­pres­sion you want to make with your writ­ing, by all means, use un­der­lin­ing. If not, don’t.

by the way
  • An­oth­er rea­son un­der­lin­ing looks worse than bold or ital­ic: un­der­lin­ing is me­chan­i­cal­ly ap­plied by the word proces­sor. Bold and ital­ic styles are spe­cial­ly de­signed to match the ba­sic style of the font.

  • The “track changes” fea­ture of your word proces­sor will un­der­line text added to the doc­u­ment. This is fine. In fact, it’s an­oth­er rea­son not to use un­der­lin­ing for em­pha­sis—so read­ers don’t con­fuse text that’s marked as a re­vi­sion with text that hap­pens to be underlined.

  • On the web, it’s id­iomat­ic (though not manda­to­ry) to un­der­line hy­per­links. On the web, this be­comes an­oth­er rea­son not to un­der­line words for em­pha­sis—vis­i­tors will be con­fused when they click on them and noth­ing happens.