How to Show Emphasis Without Typing in All-Capitals

Filed in Ask the Editor, Writing Tips by on January 23, 2015 4 Comments

As an editor here at Xulon Press, I have read hundreds of manuscripts. Maybe even thousands. However, the top three things that I’ve seen on a consistent basis is: overuse of the exclamation point, misuse of the semicolon, and capitalizing words and phrases in order to convey emphasis to the reader. While we’ve covered the first two, we haven’t covered what it means to capitalize entire words and phrases, so allow me to explain.

It’s pretty well-known that if someone says something to you through text, email, instant message, or any other written/typed communication in all capitals, it means they’re “yelling” or perhaps really wanting to make their point. With any form of communication that isn’t physically spoken (in person or on the phone), it’s hard to understand a person’s intended tone. So, people will often capitalize certain words and phrases to show emphasis. While this may be okay to do in a personal text or email, it doesn’t work for a book or professional publication.

The Chicago Manual of Style has an entry (7.48) on capitalization for emphasis, stating:

Capitalizing an entire word or phrase for emphasis is rarely appropriate. If capitals are wanted–in dialogue or in representing newspaper headlines, for example–small caps rather than full capitals look more graceful.

In order to show emphasis on a certain word or phrase, we recommend using italics. This allows the reader to understand that because it appears different, the author is trying to distinguish this word or phrase from the rest of the text. Yet, it has a more professional and “graceful” emphasis that doesn’t come across as “yelling”.

What’s interesting, however, is that if a sentence is typed in all capitals (or contains more than one exclamation point, for instance), it doesn’t change the meaning of the sentence. It doesn’t make it any more or less emphasized than a word that is in italics. Here’s a real example that I see often, especially when it comes to verses in the Bible that authors wish to add emphasis:

For GOD so LOVED the world that He gave His ONE AND ONLY SON so that whosoever BELIEVES in Him shall NOT perish but have everlasting life. [John 3:16, emphasis mine]

It’s great that the author wants to show emphasis on these particular phrases, but there’s a way to do it outside of typing in all-capitals. For instance, does the meaning change when it’s written the way it is below? Is there still that same emphasis?

For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son so that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life. [John 3:16, emphasis mine]

It still conveys the stronger “loved”, “one and only Son”, and “believes”, but in a different way that comes across more professional. However, italicizing too many words or phrases in your manuscript can make the italics lose their value quickly, just like the exclamation point.

You may be asking, “So what words can be written in all capitals?” Words that can remain in all capitals are abbreviations (such as the two-letter state abbreviations such as “CA” or “FL”), acronyms (such as “USMA” for United States Military Academy), or the interjection “O” as seen frequently in the book of Psalms. There are more, of course, but hopefully you get the gist–if it’s not supposed to be capitalized, don’t capitalize it.

The bottom line: try not to type in all-capitals for emphasis, but use italics instead. Keep your own emphasis to a minimum. Let the words themselves show their emphasis, because if done correctly, they will.

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About the Author ()

Taylor Graham comes to Xulon’s editorial team with over five years of experience writing, editing, and proofreading. Prior to joining Xulon, she worked as a freelance writer and editor, a copywriter for NBC Universal, and an advertising rater for Google. She is most passionate about the written word, the great state of California, and the Be the Match National Marrow Donor Program.

Comments (4)

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  1. avatar Melissa says:

    Thank you for these great reminders!

  2. avatar Rosemond Korankye says:

    That is so good to know.Thanks and well noted.

  3. avatar Mele says:

    Thank you for the tips, I’ll keep it in mind.

  4. avatar Fred VanOlphen says:

    THANK YOU !!!

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