Boldface text—which looks like this—has a few accepted uses. Style guides generally don’t recommend it for providing emphasis. That’s what italics and sentence structure are for. Because boldface text can be visually distracting, it is best used sparingly.
Every publication has its own standards for boldface text, and some style manuals recommend against using boldface in all but a few rare situations. The below recommendations are our own, and they differ from the recommendations of some respected style guides. For example, you will almost never see boldface text in publications that follow the APA style guide.
Titles and headings
Titles, headings, and subheadings are often boldfaced in addition to being larger than the surrounding text. For example, the “Titles and headings” heading on this section is boldface. This is standard in web publication.
Highlighting keywords and introducing terms
In textbooks, manuals, and some types of web writing, boldface is often used to highlight the first instance of an important keyword that is central to the subject of a chapter or article. For example, in our post on the difference between program and programme, we highlight the first instance of each keyword (i.e., program and programme) by boldfacing the text. The words are not boldfaced when they appear later.
Boldface is often used to make vertical lists easily scannable—for example:
- List item 1: Explanation of list item 1.
- List item 2: Explanation of list item 2.
- List item 3: Explanation of list item 3.