Emphasizing words or phrases

mDash (---), or triple hyphen
  • An mDash (---), or double hyphen, is used to highlight a phrase; for example, "I went to the market---in Petersburg---to see what the fuss was about." In this case, you are wanting the reader to clearly understand that Petersburg is important. 
  • If read aloud, the reader would read the phrase 'in Petersburg' with a highlighted tone from the rest of the sentence, to draw attention to the phrase.
  • A double nDash (or four single hyphens) can be used to obscure an obscene word; for example, "It was a d___ shame."


  • An alternative to the mDash is to use brackets (); "I went to the market (in Petersburg) to see what the fuss was about." In this case, you are not so concerned about the reader understanding where the market was; you are, effectively, de-emphasizing Petersberg. 
  • If read aloud, the reader would read the phrase 'in Petersburg' with the same tone as the rest of the sentence.
  • To place emphasis on a specific word (e.g., make it emotive) you can italicize it; for example, "Justin went crazy when he heard about the event."
  • Underlining a word or phrase also draws the reader's attention to the emphasis added. However, today, underlining tends not to be preferred in academic writing. 
  • Check your official style guide before using underlining; if in doubt, don't use it.
  • Use exclamations (!) sparingly in academic writing to highlight emotion (academic work is meant to be objective, and, therefore, emotion free). For example, "Finally!"
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