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Accessibility: Useful Content - Part IV: Understanding the Emphasis Problem

You want your audience to come away from your email or web page with all the information you put there, but was all of that content necessary or useful?

When you want your audience to read something you think is important or necessary information, you try to make it stand out. Let’s look at examples of typical attempts.

Which is easier to read, the first paragraph or the second paragraph?

Using bold

Specific penalties that may be imposed against an individual or organization guilty of an offense under the hazing law include the imposition of fines ranging from $5,000-$10,000 and/or confinement in the county jail for a period of time ranging from 90 days to two years. The specific penalty imposed for a hazing offense depends on the seriousness of the offense and whether or not bodily injury or death to an individual resulted from the hazing incident. If an individual reports an offense of hazing to the Dean of Students, the individual is immune from liability, civil or criminal, that might otherwise be incurred or imposed as a result of the report. However, a person reporting in bad faith or with malice is not so protected.

Specific penalties that may be imposed against an individual or organization guilty of an offense under the hazing law include the imposition of fines ranging from $5,000-$10,000 and/or confinement in the county jail for a period of time ranging from 90 days to two years. The specific penalty imposed for a hazing offense depends on the seriousness of the offense and whether or not bodily injury or death to an individual resulted from the hazing incident. If an individual reports an offense of hazing to the Dean of Students, the individual is immune from liability, civil or criminal, that might otherwise be incurred or imposed as a result of the report. However, a person reporting in bad faith or with malice is not so protected.


What happened here? Everything became bold in the second paragraph which put emphasis on everything. Not a single point stands out to make a concept understandable.

Using italics

Specific penalties that may be imposed against an individual or organization guilty of an offense under the hazing law include the imposition of fines ranging from $5,000-$10,000 and/or confinement in the county jail for a period of time ranging from 90 days to two years. The specific penalty imposed for a hazing offense depends on the seriousness of the offense and whether or not bodily injury or death to an individual resulted from the hazing incident. If an individual reports an offense of hazing to the Dean of Students, the individual is immune from liability, civil or criminal, that might otherwise be incurred or imposed as a result of the report. However, a person reporting in bad faith or with malice is not so protected.

Specific penalties that may be imposed against an individual or organization guilty of an offense under the hazing law include the imposition of fines ranging from $5,000-$10,000 and/or confinement in the county jail for a period of time ranging from 90 days to two years. The specific penalty imposed for a hazing offense depends on the seriousness of the offense and whether or not bodily injury or death to an individual resulted from the hazing incident. If an individual reports an offense of hazing to the Dean of Students, the individual is immune from liability, civil or criminal, that might otherwise be incurred or imposed as a result of the report. However, a person reporting in bad faith or with malice is not so protected.


What happened here? Everything became italicized in the second paragraph which put emphasis on everything, but also note the greater difficulty of reading text in italics. Not only is the meaning lost, you also put a strain on your audience’s ability to read the text.

Using underline

Specific penalties that may be imposed against an individual or organization guilty of an offense under the hazing law include the imposition of fines ranging from $5,000-$10,000 and/or confinement in the county jail for a period of time ranging from 90 days to two years. The specific penalty imposed for a hazing offense depends on the seriousness of the offense and whether or not bodily injury or death to an individual resulted from the hazing incident. If an individual reports an offense of hazing to the Dean of Students, the individual is immune from liability, civil or criminal, that might otherwise be incurred or imposed as a result of the report. However, a person reporting in bad faith or with malice is not so protected.

Specific penalties that may be imposed against an individual or organization guilty of an offense under the hazing law include the imposition of fines ranging from $5,000-$10,000 and/or confinement in the county jail for a period of time ranging from 90 days to two years. The specific penalty imposed for a hazing offense depends on the seriousness of the offense and whether or not bodily injury or death to an individual resulted from the hazing incident. If an individual reports an offense of hazing to the Dean of Students, the individual is immune from liability, civil or criminal, that might otherwise be incurred or imposed as a result of the report. However, a person reporting in bad faith or with malice is not so protected.


What happened here? Everything became underlined in the second paragraph which may have been an attempt at using emphasis as older generations understand. However, in the Internet age we have a new meaning to underlined text: the link. Style guidelines for web pages emphasize the need to use italics in place of underlines to help distinguish content such as titles of books from links to websites.

Using uppercase

Specific penalties that may be imposed against an individual or organization guilty of an offense under the hazing law include the imposition of fines ranging from $5,000-$10,000 and/or confinement in the county jail for a period of time ranging from 90 days to two years. The specific penalty imposed for a hazing offense depends on the seriousness of the offense and whether or not bodily injury or death to an individual resulted from the hazing incident. If an individual reports an offense of hazing to the Dean of Students, the individual is immune from liability, civil or criminal, that might otherwise be incurred or imposed as a result of the report. However, a person reporting in bad faith or with malice is not so protected.

Specific penalties that may be imposed against an individual or organization guilty of an offense under the hazing law include the imposition of fines ranging from $5,000-$10,000 and/or confinement in the county jail for a period of time ranging from 90 days to two years. The specific penalty imposed for a hazing offense depends on the seriousness of the offense and whether or not bodily injury or death to an individual resulted from the hazing incident. If an individual reports an offense of hazing to the Dean of Students, the individual is immune from liability, civil or criminal, that might otherwise be incurred or imposed as a result of the report. However, a person reporting in bad faith or with malice is not so protected.


What happened here? Everything became uppercase in the second paragraph. In Internet etiquette, this is called shouting. Not only does it “sound” rude, but it becomes harder to read as well.

Using color

Specific penalties that may be imposed against an individual or organization guilty of an offense under the hazing law include the imposition of fines ranging from $5,000-$10,000 and/or confinement in the county jail for a period of time ranging from 90 days to two years. The specific penalty imposed for a hazing offense depends on the seriousness of the offense and whether or not bodily injury or death to an individual resulted from the hazing incident. If an individual reports an offense of hazing to the Dean of Students, the individual is immune from liability, civil or criminal, that might otherwise be incurred or imposed as a result of the report. However, a person reporting in bad faith or with malice is not so protected.

Specific penalties that may be imposed against an individual or organization guilty of an offense under the hazing law include the imposition of fines ranging from $5,000-$10,000 and/or confinement in the county jail for a period of time ranging from 90 days to two years. The specific penalty imposed for a hazing offense depends on the seriousness of the offense and whether or not bodily injury or death to an individual resulted from the hazing incident. If an individual reports an offense of hazing to the Dean of Students, the individual is immune from liability, civil or criminal, that might otherwise be incurred or imposed as a result of the report. However, a person reporting in bad faith or with malice is not so protected.


What happened here? Every sentence was given a color style in the second paragraph. Color has the ability to distract when overused. You might hear someone say “this is too busy” or “this is too loud.” This is the equivalent of going to a party where everyone is trying to talk to you at the same time. Your attention is spread in too many directions. While everyone is saying something, you actually hear and comprehend nothing.

Moral of the story

Use styles or emphasis in moderation. Think carefully about the message you are trying to get across to your audience and what are the most important details.

In this case, the punishments are the most important, since we want students to know the consequences of their actions will be severe.

Specific penalties that may be imposed against an individual or organization guilty of an offense under the hazing law include

  • the imposition of fines ranging from $5,000-$10,000 and/or
  • confinement in the county jail for a period of time ranging from 90 days to two years.

The specific penalty imposed for a hazing offense depends on the seriousness of the offense and whether or not bodily injury or death to an individual resulted from the hazing incident. If an individual reports an offense of hazing to the Dean of Students, the individual is immune from liability, civil or criminal, that might otherwise be incurred or imposed as a result of the report. However, a person reporting in bad faith or with malice is not so protected.

Part IV explained the importance of moderation when using styles or emphasis to make content stand out. Does what you are saying make sense, though? Find out in Part V.