Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Great Debate: Italics or Underline?

Forget less filling/tastes great. Chicken or the egg. Big bang or seven days. For writers, how to denote italics in your manuscript tops them all.

What's the right way? Everyone has a different answer (which is remarkable since you'd think there could only be two, right?)

Underlining is the most common, as there are tons of books, guides and sites that back this up. But this comes from the days when you couldn't click a button and change your text to italics. Then later it continued, when fonts were always Courier and italics was hard to read. But today, using a serif font with a clear italic version is available to everyone.

What's a writer to do.

I always used underlines because that's what the books said. I submitted my novel to agents, then later to editors, with all my italics denoted by underlines. No one cared. Now that I have an editor, I asked her which she preferred. She told me to use italics, so now I do that. The fact that I used underlines to submit to her didn't bother her one bit. She still bought the book.

Now I use italics since that's how it'll look and I like to see what the page will look like. Seeing a lot of italics on one page is a visual clue that maybe I have too many (I LOVE italics). Underlines don't stick out the same way to me.

Bottom line, don't worry so much over this. No agent is going to look at your pages and shout "Eek! The used italics (or underlines) REJECT REJECT REJECT!" They're going to read your work and judge it on how good that work is. As long as you use a readable serif font (A serif font is one like Times Roman with the little tails on the ends), and it's consistent and clear what your italics are, they won't care.


They just want a great story they can't put down. Give them that, and they won't even care that you accidentally used there instead of their on page five. This holds true for so many of the small things writers worry over, so you can relax some there. As long as you're professional, clear, and consistent, you're in good shape.

Which do your prefer? Italics or underline? What other types of minutia details do you worry about? 




  2. I definitly prefer italics for novels. There's just too many to go hunting for them all and hope I don't miss them. In a short story, though, I'll use underline, because the places I've submitted to (no successes yet, though) have asked for an older manuscript format.

  3. Oh my gosh thank you! I've been worried over this for the past couple of weeks.

  4. You pointed out the only archaic reason for using underlines. Publishers need to get with the times, as technology has changed and improved how computers work.

    Or, maybe they still keep a sack of oats in the back seat of their car. You know, in case the horse gets hungry. Using underline to denote italics makes as much sense.

  5. Heh. Underlines are a relic of the typewriter days. Italics forever!!! ;)

  6. I prefer italics. Looks less busy on the page or screen than underlining.

  7. I started out using the underline method. I hated it.

    So I switched.

    My editor never blinked an eye. So now, two novels and two novellas into the series (The Deacon Chalk series from Kensington) I am a staunch italics man.