In scientific writing, we often need to mention a term and emphasize a point. So far, I always try to distinguish these two typical cases on font, by using different series or styles, say, use slanted text (\textsl{}) for the former while use italicized text (\emph{} or \textit{}) for the latter. In particular, I try to avoid using boldface for the former to ease my reader. For example, for the following line

TeX is a typesetting system for professional writing.

I would slant "typesetting system" and italicize (or \emph) "professional". But in some font sets, slant and italic font are the same, e.g., the Concerete Math font set. That means my attempt to distinguish these two cases does not work. I wonder if you think this distinction is worth. And if it is, how do you handle it? Thanks.


3 Answers 3


As mentioned by Stefan, you should use two different macros, so that you can change them easily and they will be more meaningful.

I would however warn you against over emphasising things: the reader will get lost if a word out of two is emphasised, and he will get even more lost if you have several emphasis styles and the semantic difference between them is not clear enough.

As you noticed, using slanting vs italics is not a good way to mark the distinction between two types of things, because many fonts have only one style or have italics that are not very distinct from slants… Using bold would be a bad idea, as you say, because it is hard to read and not quite nice anyway. The remaining options are:

  • Small-caps, which look better with some letter-spacing (they always look nice, but you need a font that provides them. Fake small-caps are an abomination of nature.)

  • Using a different font: sans-serif, monospaced, or a different serif font. Pick them wisely, however – the fonts you choose should be sufficiently contrasting, yet not incompatible (i.e. they should share some typographic and historical characteristics).

  • Using quotation marks for borrowed words or words that may seem a bit out of place in that particular context (but use them sparingly).


I recommend don't use font commands such as \textsl for such a repeated purpose in the text.

Instead, define a macro for example \keyword for a different emphasis. There you could use \textbf or \textsl. So it's consistent and can easily be changed later.

And you could keep using \emph for emphasizing.


Most style guides recommend that you use Italics for emphasis sparingly. Many other languages and styles can emphasize text in other ways. For instance, there is no italic in German Fraktur type, Russian, Greek, or Bernard Shaw's letters or plays; instead, words are set letterspaced.

You also need to make the distinction between emphasis and highlighting. The latter in many cases can be handled well using quotation marks. Sometimes you may even need to use bold. As for example:

the last letter of the alphabet is z

For new terms it is good practice to set the text in italics at first mention. I would recommend you use a macro for this. Let us name it \newterm. You can define so:


The advantage of using such an approach, is that you may extend the macro to add the term to the index as well.


Back to emphasis, use the \emph{}. This can handle nested, situations as well and you can change it as you like, maybe try letterspacing instead. Using the soul and xspace packages you can redefine it as:


Renaming it to a more appropriate name also offers advantages and is semantically correct. What to name it will depend on the type of document (you may have to name a number of cases).

  • I find myself using emphasis much more in technical texts and explanations than in conventional narrative prose. I’m not actually sure why, it just seems more important to emphasise the right parts of the sentence … Commented Feb 28, 2012 at 22:18

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