Ask Daphne! To Underline or Italicize

February 19th, 2008 • Kate

J.O. asks:

In my manuscript I have certain words and paragraphs that I would like italicized. I have read conflicting information regarding whether to underline or italicize these passages in my manuscript. Is this an agent preference issue, or is there a standard that I can apply to my manuscript? (Currently, I am underlining words or sentences that I would like to appear as italics.)

I could do a little research to answer this question, but instead, I’m just going to spew forth with whatever’s already in my head.
It’s my understanding that the stated preference for underlining passages which you’d prefer to be italicized i the finished product comes from a time before computers (i.e., The Dark Ages). Typewriters weren’t able to show off italics, so authors marked the emphasized passages with underlines, which typewriters could do. Over time, personal computers were developed which made the whole word processing thing an easy slam dunk. Now, it’s a cakewalk to insert italics.
That being said, if any editors or agents have listed a stated preference for underlines over italics, than you should, as always, follow their instructions for your submission. I think that if they haven’t said anything, you can feel free to send your material with the formating you most prefer — especially when you’re talking about an electronic submission, which can be reformated, if necessary.
When I used to print out partials, I would reformat every document that came in to 11 point font, with 1.5 spacing. This way, I was able to save a few trees, while still capable of reading something on my subway ride. Now, I leave stuff on the computer when I read, so all I have to do is format how much text I want to see on the screen.
I don’t usually bother with changing underlines or italics — although I think that visually italics mean something very different than underlines. It’s like in email — if you capitalize your entire message, it’s like you’re shouting. Please don’t shout at agents. Thank you.

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One Response to “Ask Daphne! To Underline or Italicize”

  1. Jean Oram Says:

    Thanks Daphne! I agree that italics and underlining communicate different things. So with great relief, and in the name of clarity, I will begin using italics instead of underlining in my manuscript. Goodbye 'control u' and hello 'control i'!
    And I'll try not to shout. 🙂
    Thanks again,
    Jean