In the Name of Good Writing, Stop the Over-Bolding!


I hate being repetitive. Truly. But some things need to be said repeatedly. And this is one of them.


Too much emphasized text doesn’t emphasize anything in particular.


That applies to italics. It applies to underlining. And it especially applies to bolding.



I won’t beat around the bush. When it comes to bolding, don’t overdo it. It’s as simple as that.

Bolding is meant to be attention-grabbing. It’s designed to say, “Look here!” at least in theory.


But designs are only as good as their designers. Which means they can either work exactly as planned or not at all.


In case you’re unconvinced, let’s look at an example or two of how this doesn’t work well at all.

Take the following paragraph, taken from last week’s Professional Writing post, “How Important Is SEO for the Website You Now Have Time to Build?


For the record, unacceptable amounts of bolding have been added:


Starting a website really isn’t that big of a deal anymore. It used to be that you needed to know something about computer coding… or be connected to someone who knew something about computer coding.
Perhaps you’d have to pay a couple thousand to someone who knew something about computer coding to make it happen. I know that’s the route I went before I realized the overall impressive, do-it-yourself offerings out there.

Does any of that actually stand out to you? Does it make you focus on particular words or phrases?


Or does it all just run together, almost hurting your eyes?


If you’re anything like me, your brain doesn’t know what to focus on under that onslaught, so it just skims instead. As such, I think it’s much better this way:


Starting a website really isn’t that big of a deal anymore. It used to be that you needed to know something about computer coding… or be connected to someone who knew something about computer coding.
Perhaps you’d have to pay a couple thousand to someone who knew something about computer coding to make it happen. I know that’s the route I went before I realized the overall impressive, do-it-yourself offerings out there.

Now you know what I want you to know: that you could save thousands of dollars by designing a website yourself.


And that’s what bolding is supposed to do, if anything at all.

Here’s another example for you, this one taken from Yahoo! Finance: “Texas Billionaire Who Levered Restaurant Empire Hit on All Sides.” (Again, I added my own emphasis.)


“Against this backdrop, the nearly $5 billion of junk-rated debt that [Tilman] Feritta saddled on Golden Nugget – a holding company for his restaurants and casinos – has now become an even bigger burden, amplifying the damage caused by every dollar of lost earnings. Junk, or high-yield, ratings are assigned to debt that is at higher risk of default.”

I’ve heard that much bolding can be compared to using all caps. It’s shouting at your reader, which is neither attractive nor effective.


You’re much better off like this:


“Against this backdrop, the nearly $5 billion of junk-rated debt that [Tilman] Feritta saddled on Golden Nugget – a holding company for his restaurants and casinos – has now become an even bigger burden, amplifying the damage caused by every dollar of lost earnings. Junk, or high-yield, ratings are assigned to debt that is at higher risk of default.”

Or maybe you’re much better off without any bolding at all. Personally, my rule of thumb is to only bold something once or twice a year.


And perhaps even that’s too much.


Overall, your words should stand out on their own. Your sentences should be arranged to make your point. The same goes for your paragraphs.


If you need an emphasis here or there, okay. But don’t rely on it to convince your readers of what’s important and what’s not.


It’s probably not going to work that well anyway.

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