And I’m Getting Rid of Underlining, Too

In MSCD 12.9, I recommend using underlining to emphasize section headings, each defined term when it’s being defined, and references to exhibits and schedules.

Underlining—or rather underscoring, to use typographer terminology—is a typewriter convention created to approximate common typographic effects that couldn’t be achieved with a typewriter. Typographers don’t like it. James Felici, The Complete Manual of Typography (2003), notes that in word-processing programs underscoring is too close to the baseline, causing it to overlap descending letters. It says that the effect is “not pretty, and you should avoid using it.”

Nevertheless, I’ve been reluctant to use the obvious alternatives, namely bold or italics. In MSCD 12.15, I say “Do not use boldface: it is too emphatic and makes words leap off the page. And do not use italics, except perhaps in amendments, as noted in 14.20: it is too subtle.”

But this has nagged at me, so once I decided that I like Calibri (for more on that, see today’s post on typefaces), it made sense for me to see what bold text looked liked compared to underscored text. And lo and behold—I liked the bold Calibri.

So not only am I proposing to dump Times New Roman and Arial in favor of Calibri, I’m also proposing to use bold type instead of underscoring. Sorry for pulling a switcheroo on you.

In terms of a reason for my change of heart, it may be that my aversion to bold text was simply a function of my aversion to Times New Roman. But also, Simon Daniels, the program manager of Microsoft’s typography group whom I consulted regarding typefaces, mentioned that some fonts, when tuned for the screen, look extra bold. With ClearType (discussed in today’s post on typefaces) you avoid that problem.

Note that I still prefer bold to italics for emphasizing contract text.

In any event, here’s the cumulative effect of today’s typography convulsions: click here to see a PDF of a sample page of a contract using Times New Roman and underscored text; click to here see a PDF of the same page using Calibri and bold text.

About the author

Ken Adams is the leading authority on how to say clearly whatever you want to say in a contract. He’s author of A Manual of Style for Contract Drafting, and he offers online and in-person training around the world. He’s also chief content officer of LegalSifter, Inc., a company that combines artificial intelligence and expertise to assist with review of contracts.

5 thoughts on “And I’m Getting Rid of Underlining, Too”

  1. Underscoring is awful, truly awful. If you are working in a page layout program such as InDesign, you can adjust underscoring to fit your exact needs, but this is labor-intensive at best. Out-of-the-box underscoring is a fright. Bold is a nice alternative, especially if the contrast is not too great, as Kenneth suggests in his post.

  2. I prefer bold, italicized, underscored text. Delicious.

    I agree that underscoring, and in particular underscoring with some fonts at small sizes, really decreases readability. However, I’m not convinced switching to bolding will work in practice. It’s just too heavy.

    Also, given the newness of Calibri (office 2007), I can’t imagine that most people would have it installed by default. So, you’ll end up sending a draft, it’ll show up in times new roman bolds.

    Though, one solution to this issue is to use styles so that when the draft is sent for execution, you can switch to your preferred emphasizing/font by making a couple changes to the styling.

  3. I think another good reason to avoid underlining text is to avoid confusion with hyperlinks. (Most web browsers underline hyperlinked text by default.)

  4. Mike: Regarding bold being too heavy, you’re where I was until very recently. I really don’t have a problem with bold Calibri.

    Although this discussion should be taking place in my typeface post, your comment on how new Calibri is suggests that—gasp!—you might not understand how it works. Leaving aside the Mac issue, if the receipient has Office 2007 or has downloaded the compatibility pack, when they open a document in Calibri, it would display in Calibri. If the recipient hasn’t downloaded the compatability pack, Windows would initiate the processt that, in a few clicks, would result in its being download.


  5. Most firms use Deltaview to compare different new and old versions of documents. Since most Deltaview comparisons shows changes as underlined, any underlined text will confuse readers (or will not show up in changed text).


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